Sound Sensitivity: What is Misophonia and Phonophobia?

January 25, 2024
3 mins
Michael Piskosz
Dr. Fabrice Bardy
Understanding Sound Sensitivity


Misophonia is a relatively rare condition characterized by a strong emotional and physiological reaction to specific sounds. The term "misophonia" translates to "hatred of sound." People with misophonia experience intense anger, irritation, or disgust when exposed to certain sounds, known as trigger sounds or trigger noises.

How reactions to sound can trigger stress, anxiety, anger and fear

These trigger sounds can vary from person to person but commonly include chewing, slurping, smacking lips, breathing sounds, pen clicking, keyboard typing, or other repetitive noises. The reaction to these sounds is typically immediate and involuntary, leading to feelings of distress, anxiety, or even rage. Misophonia is not simply a dislike for certain sounds, but rather a heightened sensitivity and extreme reaction to them. Individuals with misophonia may go to great lengths to avoid trigger sounds, which can impact their daily lives and relationships.

Phonophobia refers to an intense fear or aversion to loud sounds or noises. It is a specific phobia categorized under the broader term of specific phobia or specific situational phobia. Individuals with phonophobia experience excessive anxiety, distress, and avoidance behavior when exposed to loud noises. This fear response can be triggered by various types of sounds, such as sirens, alarms, explosions, thunderstorms, fireworks, or even everyday noises like loud music or traffic.

The symptoms of misophonia and phonophobia can vary from person to person but may include:

  1. Anxiety or panic attacks: Individuals may experience a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, or a sense of impending doom when exposed to loud sounds.
  2. Avoidance behavior: People will often go to great lengths to avoid situations or environments where they anticipate encountering loud noises. This may lead to social isolation or difficulty participating in certain activities.
  3. Physical discomfort: Loud sounds may cause physical discomfort, such as headaches, ear pain, or hypersensitivity to sound (hyperacusis).
  4. Emotional distress: Individuals may feel intense fear, irritability, or a sense of powerlessness when confronted with loud noises.

The exact cause of misophonia is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of neurological, psychological, and emotional factors. Similarly, there are still many unanswered questions about phonophobia, but many researchers believe it may develop due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Traumatic experiences involving loud noises, such as a traumatic event or childhood trauma, may also contribute to the development of phonophobia.

Treatment for misophonia and phonophobia typically involves a combination of therapies:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Exposure therapy
  4. Relaxation techniques
  5. Medication - if appropriate

These approaches aim to help individuals gradually confront and manage their emotional response and/or fear of loud sounds, reduce avoidance behaviors, and develop coping mechanisms to mitigate anxiety responses. 

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If you or someone you know is experiencing significant distress or impairment due to misophonia or phonophobia, it is recommended to consult with a health professional who can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment strategies.

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