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Some People Are Terrified of Chewing Sounds

When you chew loudly, cough or clip your nails, you might be causing another person to bubble with rage

smithsonian.com

Nobody loves hearing someone else chew. But for some people that sound is completely unbearable. For these people, who have a specific type of what’s called misophonia, those sounds can cause panic, anxiety and even rage. 

It’s unclear just how common misphonia is—some estimates says about 10 percent of the general population suffers, but among other groups it’s more common. Sixty percent of people with tinnitus have symptoms of misophonia. The condition hasn’t been recognized for very long and is often hard to diagnose, especially in children. A 20/20 investigation interviewed a few people with the disorder. And the host of the Today show, Kelly Ripa, believes she might have misphonia herself. But researchers aren’t sure what causes it, or what the best way to deal with it is. 

One recent paper on the disorder looked to see if it had any connection with eating disorders. The researchers interviewed 15 patients with eating disorders, screening them for symptoms of misphonia. Three of them showed symptoms:

Case 1 is a 29-year-old with childhood eating issues, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa whose trigger was a high-pitched female voice.

Case 2 is a 15-year-old diagnosed with anorexia nervosa after misophonia onset. Her trigger was people chewing and eating noisily.

Case 3 is a 24-year-old woman who presented with anorexia nervosa prior to misophonia onset. Her trigger was the clinking and chewing of her mother and aunt eating cereal.

All three cases identified an eating-related trigger sound with a violent aversive reaction and coping mechanisms involving eating avoidance or having a full mouth. Misophonia may be associated with presentations of eating disorders. This case report adds to the literature about the presentation of misophonia.

A New York Times piece from 2011 chronicles a few of the coping mechanisms of those with misphonia:

Meanwhile, those with the condition cope as best they can. Ms. Siganoff says she remains enraged until she says something like “shut up” or “stop it.”

“If I don’t say anything, the rage builds,” she said. “That vocalization is enough to stop the reaction.” (Echolalia, or mimicking the offensive sound, is common, Dr. Johnson said.)

As a young adolescent at the dinner table, Heidi Salerno tried to discreetly plug her ears or chew in sync with others so her own chewing noises would drown theirs out.

Kelly Ripa asks her children to chew quietly and says she has to leave her house if her husband eats a peach. Jordan Gaines Lewis, a blogger at Psychology Today, describes what goes on in her mind when she hears someone clipping their nails:

I'll sit, transfixed, unable to pay attention to the task and hand, my blood boiling and heart racing. I want to run. I want to scream.

So the next time you chew loudly, cough, or clip your nails, remember: you might be causing a seething, bubbling rage in someone around you. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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