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New research from the University of Oxford suggests that nearly one in five people in the UK find everyday sounds intolerable. According to the study, 18.4% of the general population

experiences significant problems caused by certain sounds, with some individuals feeling disgusted, angry or even panicked by them. This condition is known as misophonia, and it causes a strong negative reaction to common sounds, which are usually made by other people. These sounds can include chewing, breathing, yawning, tapping, snoring and loud breathing. People with misophonia often experience a fight-or-flight response to these sounds, which can trigger anger and a need to escape.

The study, published in the journal Plos One, used a questionnaire developed to capture the severity and complexity of misophonia within a sample of 772 people who were representative of the general population across sex, age and ethnicity. The analysis showed that misophonia was equally common in men and women and that it tended to be less severe with age. Moreover, only 13.6% of people had heard about the condition, and 2.3% identified as having the condition. According to the scientists, this may suggest that many people are not aware there is a term to describe how they react to sounds.

Senior author, Dr Jane Gregory, a clinical psychologist at the department of experimental psychology, University of Oxford, said that the experience of misophonia is more than just being annoyed by a sound. She explained that misophonia can cause feelings of helplessness and being trapped when people can’t get away from an unpleasant sound. Often those with misophonia feel bad about themselves for reacting the way they do, especially when they are responding to sounds made by loved ones. Dr Gregory added that more research is needed to understand what causes misophonia and how we can help those people whose symptoms disrupt their day-to-day lives.

The questionnaire used in the study also measured the impact of misophonia on people’s lives, such as social isolation, avoiding certain places and concerns about the future. By comparing results from this study and previous research, scientists estimated the reactions to sounds that are linked specifically to the condition. The findings could help raise awareness of misophonia and encourage healthcare professionals to develop appropriate treatments.

Misophonia is a relatively unknown condition that can cause significant distress and negatively impact people's lives. Therefore, it is essential to develop strategies to help those affected by it. The study highlights the need for further research into misophonia to understand its causes and develop effective treatments. It is important to educate the public and healthcare professionals about the condition to provide support and reduce stigma around it. Photo by Simon Q, Wikimedia commons.