WASHINGTON- June 17, 2013 — At the dinner table, the sounds of eating, chewing, lip smacking or swallowing can drive some into a rage. Other sounds such as nail cutting, breathing, talking, sneezing, snoring and a host of other seemingly innocuous sounds has similar affect. Visually, seeing others fidget, shuffle, and other body movements can evoke the same rage.
This is a disorder that affects millions of people (mostly females) yet is so little known, even health care professionals misdiagnose the symptoms as something else. When the victims are children, parents often think they are deliberate trouble makers, acting out or pretending for attention.
The disorder is called mispohonia (hatred of sound) and those who have it rarely understand what it is, why they react as they do and are victims of the reactive hostility from others if they mention their discomfort. If victims are lucky enough to have parents who believe their child has a condition beyond their control, it is often misdiagnosed as Oppositional Defiance Disorder or acousticophobia or hyperacusis.
Victims often do not mention their feelings and ‘suck it up’ when they feel like destroying the source of the sounds or the movements. The triggers of sound and movement cause fight or flight response, extremely high levels of stress and anxiety and above all, almost uncontrollable rage.
Victims cannot eat with the family, go to a theater, eat in a restaurant or sit comfortably in a waiting office of any kind without feeling like they are losing control of their emotions.
Children with this disorder are so often misunderstood, parents cause additional emotional pain by assigning other behaviors and punishing the child. When siblings, friends and school mates discover a child’s unusual response to such triggers, they chew extra loud, eat very close, make sounds with their mouths they know upsets the victim of misophonia.
Unlike acousticophobia, the fear of sudden unexpected loud noises or hypercusis, an over-sensitivity to a particular frequency range, misophonia is the rabid response to a multitude human generated sounds and some movements. The sounds most associated with misophonia are related to eating.
This disorder has been known to confuse health care professionals who determine someone, particularly a child, is ‘acting out’ when in fact, they are being assaulted in highly unusual ways in normal settings.
Little is known as to the cause of this disorder except that the response generated is from the primitive limbic or emotional system and is thought to be a disruption within the central nervous system.
Treatment may range from avoiding public eating facilities, dinner tables and generally to dine alone and away from the table sounds emitted by others. Cognitive behavioral or incremental therapy may help and if one cannot avoid some eating situations such as a company dinner or an airplane, a sedative may serve to lessen the affect.
If your child seems uncontrollable under such circumstances, he/she may not be able to help it and needs help, not punishment.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.
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