For Sufferers of Misophonia, Silence Is Golden

By Petsko, Emily | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

For Sufferers of Misophonia, Silence Is Golden


Petsko, Emily, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


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," Ms. Belasik, 24, of Ross, recognizes that she has a condition called misophonia, or selective sound sensitivity syndrome.

"It's not common, but it's 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. None is in Pittsburgh.

While there is no cure, neurologists speculate on the cause. Eric McDade, an osteopathic physician at the University of Pittsburgh's 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 usually develops in childhood, which Dr. McDade attributed to some miswiring in the brain that caused an emotional response to a particular sound.

"It's 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.

While most people get annoyed while listening to others chew with their mouths open, 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.

For sufferers of misophonia, one minute of listening to someone chewing gum is comparable to one hour of listening to nails on a chalkboard.

Ms. Belasik, a former front desk supervisor at a local hotel, finds it difficult to cope with misophonia almost every day. Friends, family members and patrons are all potential triggers, she said.

"Just the other day there was a guy sitting up here at the bar and he was eating a bag of chips," she said. "The crinkling of the bag, the way he was chewing and then he started licking his fingers - - I had to just walk away. …

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