One out of 5 Brits suffer from Misophonia

March 2023

Misophonia is a disorder that has become a topic of increasing interest in recent years. It is characterized by a strong emotional reaction to specific sounds, such as chewing or breathing, which can cause significant distress and impact on a person’s daily life. While there is no consensus on the causes of misophonia, researchers are working to better understand its prevalence and impact on people’s lives.

A new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, sheds light on these questions by providing estimates of misophonia prevalence in the UK and examining the psychometric properties of a widely used questionnaire. The study was conducted by researchers from King’s College and Oxford Universities as well as NHS, UK and involved a large sample of over 768 adults who completed an online survey. The survey included a range of measures, including the S-Five questionnaire, which assesses different aspects of misophonia such as emotional reactions to specific sounds, appraisals of the sounds, and impact on daily life. The researchers used the Oxford King’s Structured Clinical Interview for Misophonia (OK-SCIM) interview protocol to determine if 55 (out of 768) participants had misophonia as defined by a recent consensus statement from a group of international experts. Of the 55 participants, 26 had already self-diagnosed with misophonia.


Prevalence of misophonia in the UK

The results of the study showed that almost one in five people (18.4%) in the UK experience misophonia to a level where it causes significant burden in terms of distress and impact. Dr. Silia Vitoratou, lead author of the study at King’s College London stated “only 14% of those deemed highly affected by misophonia had heard the term before”. “There are lots of people out there experiencing this and they don’t even have a name for it” and  “That’s heart-breaking” she said. It is noteworthy that this prevalence rate is similar to previous estimates from other countries (e.g., college students in the US). Surprisingly, the researchers found no significant difference between men and women in terms of misophonia prevalence and severity. This is in contrast to previous research which has suggested that women are more likely to experience misophonia. The study also found a small difference in the average age for those with severe and non-severe misophonia, with those above the threshold of severity for misophonia being on average 3.3 years younger than those below the threshold.


Attitude related to misophonia

The study found that people tend to blame others for unpleasant sounds, more than they blame themselves. This is different from what was previously believed by people who identify with this disorder. They thought that the biggest issue was feeling threatened by the sounds, and the least issue was having sudden emotional outbursts. These results suggest that blaming others for the sounds is a common behavior, and it’s less helpful for identifying misophonia than other factors measured in the study.


Negative emotional reaction related to the trigger sounds

In terms of the specific sounds that trigger misophonia, they identified the trigger sounds that can make people feel disgusted, angry, or panicked. Some of the sounds that make people feel disgusted are loud chewing, chewing gum, and slurping. Snoring and repetitive barking tend to make people feel angry, while footsteps and repetitive coughing can make people feel panicked.


Most common triggers

Regardless of the negative emotions, they found that loud chewing, slurping, snoring, and loud breathing were among the most commonly reported triggers. Several studies with similar objectives have repeatedly found that people with misophonia are triggered by the same sounds irrespective to their population or culture. This means that regardless of where someone is from or their background with different table manners and eating cultures, they are likely to be triggered by the same sounds as others with misophonia.


Misophonic reaction toward the triggers in comparison to the general population

The researchers also noted that there were some differences between the types of sounds that trigger misophonia in people with the disorder versus the general population. For example, normal breathing was found to be more indicative of misophonia in people with the disorder, while swallowing was a highly reliable indicator for those with higher levels of misophonia. Additionally, anger and panic were more frequently reported as reactions to trigger sounds in people with misophonia, while irritation was the most common reaction reported by the general population. Dr. Silia Vitoratou added “Most people with misophonia think they are alone, but they are not. This is something we need to know about and make adjustments if we can.”

Dr Silia Vitoratou – King’s College London

S-Five: A suitable tool

The researchers also examined the psychometric properties of the S-Five questionnaire, which is widely used to assess misophonia. The results showed that the five-factor structure of the questionnaire, which assesses emotional reactions, appraisals, and impact, was well-supported by the data. The questionnaire also showed good reliability and validity, suggesting that it is a useful tool for assessing misophonia in both clinical and community samples.


Study limitations

While the study provides important insights into the prevalence and impact of misophonia, there are some limitations to consider. For example, the sample was limited to the UK population, and it is unclear whether the results would generalize to other countries and cultures. Additionally, the interview protocol used to establish misophonia as a disorder has since been refined by the research team to align with the consensus definition of the disorder. Further research is needed to validate the refined protocol and to examine the psychometric properties of the revised questionnaire.


Despite these limitations, the study represents an important step forward in our understanding of misophonia. By providing estimates of prevalence and examining the psychometric properties of assessment tools, the study provides valuable information for clinicians and researchers working with this population. The findings suggest that misophonia is a significant and relatively common disorder that can have a significant impact on people’s lives. Understanding the nature and causes of misophonia will be an important area of research in the coming years, as it has the potential to lead to more effective treatments and interventions for those who suffer from this disorder.


What to do if you have misophonia

Misophonia is a real and highly debilitating disorder that can have a significant impact on individuals’ lives, and it can be challenging to manage without support. If you or someone you know is struggling with misophonia, it is essential to seek help from ‘legitimate’ professionals who understand the disorder and can provide effective treatment options. There are various resources available online, including support groups, forums, and websites that offer information and guidance on coping with misophonia. Additionally, quite a few healthcare providers specialize in the treatment of misophonia and can provide effective interventions tailored to the individual’s needs. If you are looking for help with misophonia, it is essential to reach out to a qualified healthcare professional who can provide the support and guidance you need to manage this disorder effectively. Don’t hesitate to seek help and support; there are people who can help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

This review is written by Dr Mercede Erfanian PhD who is a research fellow at Hashir International Specialist Clinics and Research Institute for Misophonia, Tinnitus & Hyperacusis.

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