I

t started when he was a boy: Jeffrey Scott Gould found himself tensing inexplicably when a classmate sniffled.

Later, when his cousin wore flip-flops at the pool, he found her footfalls unbearable. As a teenager, he begged his stepmother not to put carrots in the salad; his heart raced when his grandfather chomped.

Gould assumed that his testy reaction to such benign noises was nothing more than a personality quirk. Then a friend saw a news report about a neurological disorder called misophonia and told him: “There’s a name for what you have.”

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Gould was reduced to tears. He realized, at last, that he was not weird, not crazy, and not alone. Now, he’s aiming to get the message out to the world with a documentary, “Quiet Please…,” which shows just how excruciating and lonely it can be to live with the condition. The film premieres Saturday in New York City.

Misophonia, sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome or 4S, is a baffling and bizarre disorder. Patients feel an instantaneous, overwhelming, and uncontrollable rage — often accompanied by physiological responses such as sweaty palms or a racing heart — to certain sounds.

These triggers are often chewing and eating sounds, sometimes barely audible. Some people report visual triggers such as fidgeting or foot-bobbing, or even olfactory or tactile triggers.

Like other rare disorders, misophonia came to light with the help of social media, as patients who spent decades in isolation were at last able to find one another online. The largest of several Facebook support groups has more than 10,000 members.

Much about misophonia is still unknown: It’s not even clear just how rare it is. The disorder appears stubbornly resistant to treatment.

When the first articles about misophonia began appearing several years ago, doubters heaped scorn on the very idea of a disorder that makes the sound of chewing unbearable. But for people with the condition, seeing it acknowledged in the mainstream press was a relief.

Last year, Dr. Barron Lerner wrote about his misophonia in the New York Times. He was stunned when his story logged more than 1,100 comments and hundreds of emails. His professional credentials, as an internist and professor at New York University Langone School of Medicine, validated the disorder for many readers.

Lerner says he has a relatively mild case of misophonia, but it still wreaks some havoc in his life. He struggles with discomfort on public transportation “where people don’t blow their nose and are sniffing their mucus back into their nostrils and snorting,” he said.

“I still sometimes carry Kleenex with me when I go on planes, and politely say, ‘Do you mind blowing your nose?’” he said. “That is rarely appreciated.”

He knows others have it far worse. “I wish someone with a severe form of this disease had written this article,” one reader commented. “When someone opens a bag of chips in my office, I want to cry.”

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‘I am not a nutcase’

Michael Mannino’s misophonia was so bad, it forced him to move.

His neighborhood in Miami featured so many triggering noises that he’d have to rush to his car “and “bang the seat and the steering wheel” to try to relieve the anguish, he said. “There were times it got so bad I would break down crying.”

Even the sound of his wife brushing her teeth can trigger such a rage in Mannino, a doctoral student in neuroscience, that he feels like driving his fist through the wall, he said. In their new condominium, his bathroom is far away from hers.

When he learned what misophonia was, Mannino said he felt deeply relieved: “I am not a nutcase. There is something legitimately wrong with me.”

But what, exactly?

Science has no answers.

One of the few studies on misophonia, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2013, confirmed a physiological “skin conductance response” — sweaty palms — when people with the disorder were exposed to triggers. Some researchers suggest there is enhanced connectivity between certain regions of the brain in people with misophonia. But no one knows for sure.

So people with the disorder are left to experiment with often contradictory treatments and management strategies: antidepressants, supplements, neurofeedback, avoidance, exposure, earplugs, white noise, soundproofing.

Though some people with misophonia say they learn to cope, many report their triggers multiply over time and their reactions intensify.

That prospect terrifies Kathy Lundy, who lives near Raleigh, N.C. At first she thought it was a phase when her preteen son was bothered by chewing sounds. The internet told her otherwise. “Once we saw the words ‘No cure,’ our entire world changed,” she said. “Nothing I read gives me any hope.”

Filmmaker Gould compares the condition to an autoimmune disease when the body turns on itself. “My heart starts racing and I have a sudden feeling of anger with a side of disgust,” he said. “It’s like an adrenaline burst. It’s a physiological change in my body I cannot control. You never get used to it.”

Gould, who’s from New Jersey, raised almost $34,000 on the crowdfunding site IndieGogo to fund his documentary. Making the film was distressing, in part, because as he traveled the country to interview patients with misophonia, he spent six months listening to people cry. “Sniffling was my first and worst trigger,” he said.

When he got home and reviewed his footage, he edited out hundreds of sniffles.

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  • It should be possible to devise earplugs that selectively squelches offending sounds. It may be even possible to find and suppress some components of the sound that triggers the reaction.

  • sniffling, chewing, sneezing are really bad and the worst one is burping, it give me instant rage even just visual. i thought im weird before until i found this disorder recently. im not alone. i wish there is a cure for this disorder. a good day can turn into a cranky/bad day for me if i hear one of them especially burp.

  • I laugh because I don’t get enraged but incredibly annoyed at chewing, teeth grinding, sniffling, breathing in general…. I am always running a fan or have something on in the background to “soften” those sounds up for me and my husband always ask why I need things making “noise.” HE doesn’t understand that what he THINKS is quiet is actually him chewing, mouth breathing, clearing his throat, SNORING… There is no silence with him there!

  • I used to think I was just being rude when I asked people to chew with their mouths closed or to chew quieter or to not eat gum around me, because I would never be able to focus on anything except the sound, and it would make me feel so…horrible. I recall once I had to leave my class becuase a group of girls behind me were chewing gum and I started having a breakdown, vividly imagining punching them and feeling like I was going to cry. It’s good to know Im not alone or crazy, I just wish there was some kind of solution.

    • Someone eating a banana can set me off in a heartbeat. My little dog is older and she starts in this smacking noise and that same noise when she starts licking her feet. It can make me rage in an instant. Smacking noises in general. Just… makes me very uncomfortable thinking about it.

  • I have this to the point it disrupts my life. I can’t sleep without earplugs do to repetitive sounds like breathing or even rain falling in a constant tic off the house into a puddle. Sounds that are unbearable: smacking, any kind of smacking with people and animals (even in movies! Why do actors smack in movies? Gross!) Also, breathing, sipping, teeth scraping, animals drinking water, any repetitive sound, clicking, ect. All those sounds bother me to the point I’m uncomfortable, have anxiety, and want to escape the situation. I don’t like pens clicking or people bouncing their knees up and down. It just makes me uncomfortable and unable to focus. I have anxiety and depression but very well controlled and I’m happy. But sounds still bother me. I’ve tried alot of things to try and relieve the anxiety related to noises: here are some that helped a little. 1. Headsets ( the Bose C15 noise cancelling headsets work great!!) 2.Earplugs at night 3. Sleeping at the other end of the bed from my husband with the fan and a sound machine.( My poor husband. I’ve yelled at him so much to quit smacking, clicking, or breathing hard and it’s barely noticeable to other people. I often feel guilty about getting irritated at noises because of the way it makes me feel and act.) 4. I’ve tried ignoring the sounds, and removing myself. 5. I’ve even tried desensitizing by purposely listening to the annoying sounds but it still bothers me. Sometimes the sounds don’t bother me as much especially if I’m distracted. Bottom line, if there was a cure I would do everything in my power to get it. Sorry if this was TMI but hopefully it helps someone. This is real for some people. You’re not alone. Also, there are support groups and counseling. If this article is correct then most people that have misophonia probably also have another mental health issue. So don’t be afraid to go to a counselor or therapist. It’s not a sign of weakness but of strength. #morelovelesshate >💜😘<😠

  • I have a problem with some noises and habits of others,I usually deal with it by avoidance — leaving the situation. But my grandson can not seem to leave the situation — he almost goes berserk !!! I feel as though I passed this on to him —- am I correct?

  • I am 63 and just discovered there is a name for this condition I have had ever since I can remember. I used to pray to be deaf. I’m a nice person, but someone cracking their gum can evoke such anger in me. I just can’t understand why people need to be so noisy and interrupt my “space”. My father had this condition too, a squeak in the car would drive him up the wall. He would have us as children crawl around in the car and rap on different areas to stop the squeak. A dog barking, chewing, crunching, flipping light switches loudly, noisily closing a door and anything that squeaks is cause for severe irritation. I couldn’t sit on my patio because a neighbors flag pole was so noisy with metal on metal “dinging”. I had to write a note and ask them to please fix it. I wish there was a cure but at least there is a definition for it.

  • The sound of someone chewing softly is inexplicably loathsome. I quietly stifle my furry daily, snapping only occasionally, as my wife chews with her mouth open. The sound is seaming amplified and exaggerated with every bite, carving it’s way into my soul.

    This comes as a relief, oddly enough. I thought I was just incredibly OCD.

  • If we go by Tesla’s theory that vibration is the basis or our existance, well then some sounds/vibrations will be cacaphonus to some people.God knows the miserable tonals of countywestern so called music makes me want to dismember the miscreants.Good to know there is a word for it.

  • Oh my, just reading the word sniffling makes me want to scream!!! You should hear the kids on the trampoline that is 6 feet from my back porch!!! This disorder sucks and so do the freaking 10 barking dogs in my neighborhood. I long to be normal.

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