When it comes to sound sensitivity we can distinguish the three biggest ‘disorders’: tinnitus, misophonia, and phonophobia. Since the differences between these three can get confusing, we’ll explain all you need to know about these conditions.
Tinnitus is a form of hearing damage. People dealing with tinnitus hear some kind of noise all the time without there necessarily being a source. It can be the consequence of high blood pressure and several infectious diseases but mostly it’s the result of (too much) noise.
The noise people with tinnitus hear all the time might differ. It can vary from a peep to a whistle and a buzz, a grumble or a more hammering kind of sound.
Lots of people experience some kind of beep in their ears after a night of clubbing. Take this as an important warning. It means that a bit of your hearing is damaged. When this happens a lot, the effects are irreversible. This is tinnitus.
Better be safe than sorry, so make sure you protect your ears well. With Knops the noise of the world enters your ears at the volume that suits you. Always visit a general practitioner when you suspect you might have tinnitus.
Misophonia isn’t hearing damage, but more of a mental condition. It’s being characterized by a strong reaction that’s being triggered by certain sounds like chewing, swallowing, sniffing and smacking. One study found that around 80% of the sounds were related to the mouth (eating, slurping, chewing or popping gum, whispering, etc.), and around 60% were repetitive. A visual trigger may develop related to the trigger sound.
Reactions may differ from annoyance to downright aggression. It can be so severe that people avoid certain situations, which has a direct consequence for their general happiness.
There still is a lot of research to be done on this condition. It’s not classified as a psychiatric condition, there are no standard diagnostic criteria and there is little known on how common it is and which kind of treatment works. Wearing plugs can make things a bit more bearable.
Whereas misophonia focus on the more soft sounds, phonophobia is the fear of (sudden) loud sounds. This is also an anxiety disorder, not a hearing problem. We all get a bit startled when there’s a sudden loud sound, but the key difference is that people with phonophobia live in fear for this occurrence all the time.
Another example is seeing someone blowing up a balloon. This is often an unsettling, even disturbing thing for a person with phonophobia to observe, as he or she anticipates a loud sound when the balloon pops.
Symptoms include the desire to flee, excessive sweating, nausea or even panic attacks. There is no single, proven treatment available that can cure phonophobia, though there are some successful stories containing exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. They can be used in combination with prescription medication to help reduce anxiety and ease stress.