Because I suffer from a dry mouth, I chew gum to keep it moist. It helps me, especially when I’m in a long meeting and might not be able to have a drink. But it can really irritate others.
One night at the theatre, I was chewing as usual when the man sitting on my right asked me to chew less noisily. I hadn’t been aware my chewing was even audible and came to the conclusion he was suffering from misophonia.
Haven’t heard if it? Well, if you’ve got misophonia it can trigger intense physical or emotional reactions to hearing chewing and breathing sounds that others might see as dramatic.
I did think his insistence that I chew soundlessly a touch OTT, but I guess I was lucky he wasn’t more upset.
But it turns out that people who have extreme reactions to sounds like that may in fact have a supersensitised brain connection.
Researchers at Newcastle University found sufferers of misophonia have increased connectivity between the brain’s auditory cortex, where we hear sounds, and motor control areas related to the mouth, throat and face, where we chew and use our mouths.
“Our findings indicate that for people with misophonia, there is abnormal communication between the auditory and motor brain regions – you could describe it as a supersensitised connection,” said the lead author, Dr Sukhbinder Kumar.
“This is the first time such a connection in the brain has been identified for the condition.” Misophonia literally means hatred of sound and, for people with it, the trigger is usually any sounds made by the mouth.
The reaction can be anything from mild disgust and a feeling of anxiety to panic and the urge to flee.
So quite a range of emotions, depending on the sensitivity of the connection.
Around 6% to 20% of people are believed to be affected and it often first becomes an issue around the age of 12 – and more commonly in girls.
It can really put a strain on the social life of sufferers as they try to avoid the trigger sounds.
So what can you do about it?
Dr Kumar said some people with the condition can lessen their symptoms by mimicking the action that generates the sound, which might help restore a sense of control.
So if you can make the sound yourself it becomes less irritating.
“Using this knowledge may help us develop new therapies for people with the condition,” he said.
I hope so. Chewing gum, anyone?