Kelly Ripa is one of hundreds of people suffering from misophonia, a rare and little-understood disorder characterized by an intense rage and anxiety triggered by specific sounds.
While Ripa’s case is mild compared to some, she told 20/20 during a recent interview, that her anxiety levels increase considerably when exposed to some sounds. “It could be as simple as just swallowing; the sound of swallowing. Well, I think that my gut reaction is to yell, but I control that. If my husband eats a peach, I have to leave the room.”
People with the disorder have sudden reactions of intense anger and annoyance, usually triggered by a noise made by those who are closest to them on an emotional level. The triggers are different in each person and usually include noises that other people do not mind, such as swallowing, sighing, coughing, gulping or scratching.
As a relatively new disease — the first case was officially recognized in 2001 — little information is available, often leading to misdiagnosis.
Onset usually occurs during childhood before the age of 12, and symptoms include:
- Trigger sounds often related to eating and breathing that lead to intense emotional and physical reaction
- Symptoms worsen sometimes in the presence of those emotionally connected to the sufferer
- Most common reaction to a trigger is intense rage, but in mild cases it could manifest in ‘unexplained’ anxiety or annoyance
- Trigger sounds create fight or flight responses; the sufferer must leave the room to escape the sound, or they will react violently to the person creating the noise
Adah Siganoff, a misophonia sufferer, told TODAY, “It’s all about the reaction. The rage. The anger. For people with this disorder, the sound is like 200 people pulling their fingernails down a chalkboard at the same time. It’s that same intensity and it’s very overwhelming.”
There is no known cure for misophonia. Treatment involves learning how to cope with sounds by masking them with ear plugs or playing white noise through headphones.
Kelly Ripa told 20/20, cooking and eating segments on her daily show were bearable because sounds were drowned out by applause, or she was often chewing at the same time as others. However, there are extreme cases in which people isolate from others because they cannot cope with daily interactions.
Behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy are also options for misophonia sufferers, though no long-term research has confirmed the benefits.
Unlike a hearing abnormality, misophonia is an issue of how the brain reacts to sound, and avoiding triggers is often the only reliable method of prevention. Because of the emotional tie with the disorder, people with extreme cases of misophonia often have difficulty maintaining long-term relationships and develop serious cases of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Misophonia UK and partner program Misophonia Research Foundation have made spreading awareness of this condition a priority, and wrote in their mission statement, “Until recently, misophonia was an ‘invisible’ disorder. Most of those with the condition simply suffered in silence. Those who plucked up the courage to go their doctor were told that they were suffering from stress, or depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Sufferers had real symptoms but the medical community did not recognize them to be a syndrome.”
In many cases, especially with children and teenagers, counselors and health professionals dismiss misophonia as “tantrums” or aggressive personality. In other cases, such as Ripa’s, people assume the person just have low tolerance to other people or are just projecting their stress levels on what apparently is an insignificant situation.