Silence Truly Golden for Sound-Sensitive Patients

Article excerpt

Byline: Emily Petsko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For as long as she can remember, Suzanne Belasik has been a prisoner to sound. Gum cracking, crunching and the clanking of silverware against plates are just a few of the unbearable noises that make her distracted, irritated and even enraged.

While some say she is "overly sensitive," Belasik, 24, recognizes that she has a condition called misophonia, or selective sound sensitivity syndrome.

"Its not common, but its more common than you would think," said Melanie Herzfeld, an audiologist at the Hearing and Tinnitus Center in Woodbury, N.Y., who provides sound management therapy to four or five new misophonia patients each month.

The term misophonia was coined in 2001 by New York-based neuroscientists Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, who are originally from Poland. Research has been limited, and few specialists around the country provide misophonia therapy.

While there is no cure, neurologists speculate on the cause. Eric McDade, an osteopathic physician at the University of Pittsburghs department of neurology, said he believes misophonia is caused by an abnormally strong connection between the auditory and limbic systems in the brain.

The limbic system produces emotion and the "fight or flight" response that causes individuals with misophonia to become increasingly agitated when exposed to a trigger sound or to remove themselves from whatever is producing the sound.

Misophonia, which usually develops in childhood, involves some miswiring in the brain that caused an emotional response to a particular sound, McDade said.

"Its a rather limited repertoire of sounds that provokes this very strong response," he said, adding that some individuals with misophonia might also have anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People with misophonia have a more extreme reaction to what many would consider ordinary noises. Reactions range from disgust to rage to panic and oftentimes a combination of all three. …