Does the sound of someone chewing or breathing drive you nuts?

In people with misophonia, a specific area of the brain is overly sensitive to certain trigger sounds.

If the sound of someone chewing or breathing tends to get on your nerves, there may be a real medical cause — your brain may actually be wired differently.

The medical term for this condition is misophonia. It was coined in early 2000s and there were doubts as to whether it was real or not but that has apparently been laid to rest by a study recently published in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists looked at the brains of people both with and without this condition. They watched as the brain reacted to neutral sounds, like rain falling; sounds that everyone accepts as irritating, like babies crying; and, the sounds made by chewing or breathing. For most of us these latter sounds are pretty much neutral, but in people with misophonia they trigger an exaggerated response, including an increase in the heart rate and sweating.

The investigators found that when they watched the brain of the people with misophonia, a specific area was overly sensitive to these trigger sounds. Furthermore, these areas of the frontal cortex were connected in a very different way to an area of the brain (the anterior insular cortex) that is responsible for how we react to the world around us.

So there is a definite biological basis for misophonia and with this knowledge we may not only be able to better diagnose people who have this condition, but tailor therapy based on biofeedback or other initiatives that will help them.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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