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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  • I can definitely relate! I am a nurse who is very interested in a study on misophonia. I can hear a pen click a mile away and have been known to snatch it out of a person’s hand because it is sooooo irritating. I avoid eating with loved ones who crunch loudly, pop gum, or chew with their mouth open. It is a relief to know I am not alone. I have always attributed this pet peeve of mine to just being too sensitive.

  • I’m bothered by many noises, and I’ve been aware of Misophonia for years. My children think I use it as an excuse to control the behavior of those around me, but that’s not at all the case. I am actually outraged when an eating utensil hits a plate and clangs while someone is dining, especially more than once. And when my adult son stabs his food with a fork and the noise hits the plate, I want to scream. When someone pushes a chair back from the table and it drags loudly on the floor, I’m outraged. When on phone and another conversation starts next to me, I want bang my head against the wall. I can’t stand to hear my partner eat – cereal, especially. The television has to be turned up or my ear plugs have to be tuned in. And when two people are talking (loudly) in a social situation at same time, I have to leave the room. If someone eats popcorn or unwraps candy wrappers while close to me in a movie theater I have to get up and leave before screaming at them to stop, stop, stop being so rude! As a result of my misophonia, I’m finding that I avoid social and family get-togethers. It’s just easier, but now I’m being branded as anti-social, rude, a recluse. Yet, I travel with favorite music at full blast on sound system. I take my iPod to appointments – mostly to block outside noise or tv’s playing in waiting rooms, or people talking on their cell phones. Or texting with sound up. Most all noise affects me; bothers me. Barking dogs, leaf blowers and lawn mowers, chain saws and garbage collection trucks. My dog licking himself or drinking water. name it and I cringe. I have a girlfriend who smacks when she eats and I look for excuses not to spend time with her – the smacking drives me insane. Perhaps I’m already insane and just refuse to listen to the voices in my head telling me to calm down, to breathe, to tune out, to run! My only refuge is music, mostly loud music via headphone or while traveling 70 mph on interstate – go figure … And these people on television who argue, interrupt and talk over one another – forget it. At least that’s an easy fix – I just turn off the tv; muting does not help!

  • My God this article is exciting and frightening all at the same time! I get so angry by eating noises, by the noise people make with a dry mouth and as guilty as it makes me feel I can’t stand the noise my dog makes when drinking. I always assumed this sensativity linked back to my Borderline Personality Disorder or even my migraines, I didn’t know it was a whole different condition. I get a dry mouth so I’m always triggering myself while trying to sleep until I get so angry I need to put headphones on. I had to stop spending nights at my grandma’s house because the sucking/slurping sounds she makes when eating make me want to scream. I’ve bitten though my lip or bunched a fist so tight my nails cut my palm just to stop myself yelling at my family when eating (thank God for TV).
    The one thing I wish this article had mentioned was the guilt. I often feel guilty because I get so angry at my dog doing something as important as drinking or my dad eating. I can’t imagin trying to explain such a bizzare problem.
    Does anyone know what type of doctor is suppose to diagnose misophonia?

  • I hate people chewing loud smacking their mouths and I hate people sniffing when they have to blow their nose it is so disgusting to me

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