Misophonia: When Annoying Noises Send You Into A Rage

09/08/2011 11:40 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2012

Loud chewing by a friend, coworker or that random stranger next to you in line at the post office can drive even the most level-headed person up a wall. But for some people, the noise becomes entirely unbearable, spurring an extreme fight-or-flight response.

The condition is called misophonia -- literally "hatred of sound" -- and occurs when a common noise, whether it's something like a person chewing loudly, water dripping or someone "ahem"-ing, causes you to become anxious or angry, more so than a typical response, TODAY reported. It can also be known as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome (4S) or hyperacusis.

"Everything I have turns into a boiling pot of rage, and then I have to talk myself down," Adah Siganoff, who suffers from misophonia, told TODAY. Siganoff has to sit in a separate room from her husband during dinner time because the sound of chewing gets to her so much.

Most people develop misophonia in late childhood, around the age of 10, and it can get worse as the person gets older, with more sounds becoming triggers, The New York Times reported. Not much research has been done on the condition, and some doctors still have never heard of it.

People with the disorder are not bothered by the loudness of sound -- rather, the softer, repetitive, common sounds are the ones that drive them up the wall, according to The New York Times.

"What they experience is kind of a Mount St. Helens eruption of emotions and feelings associated with these sounds," Dr. Marsha Johnson, of the Oregon Tinnitus & Hyperacusis Treatment Clinic, told TODAY.

There is no cure for misophonia, and people who have the condition learn to just avoid trigger sounds, Dr. Aage R. Moller, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, told The New York Times. Moller said the root problem likely isn't a hearing disorder, but more an issue of how these people's brains are activated by sound.

To manage, people with the condition can employ coping skills such as wearing ear plugs or playing white noise to drown out the trigger sound, according to Mispohonia UK. Therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy, is also an option.

The condition is different from the fear of sound, which is phonophobia, and pain from certain frequency of sounds, which is hyperacusis, CTV News reported. It's also separate from tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears.

There is an online support group for people with misophonia, found here. The condition can often affect relationships.

In romantic relationships, many people with 4S report that it's great in the beginning, then things deteriorate as they start to notice the other person's noises more. The complaints add up, and the other person gets tired of making allowances for the 4S.