The rare incurable condition that causes massive rows between Ruth Langsford and husband Eamonn Holmes

The rare incurable condition that causes massive rows between Ruth Langsford and husband Eamonn Holmes

08/21/2021

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Does the sound of your partner eating drive you insane, or does someone sniffing make you want to scream? Most of us find some noises annoying, but for some people an everyday sound can trigger anxiety and even violence. This extreme emotional reaction is caused by a condition called misophonia, which is thought to affect one in five of us.

Reality star Kelly Osbourne has spoken out about the misery the condition causes her, and says she becomes so irritated at the sound of people eating that she’s had to confiscate their food.

“I’ve walked up to people I don’t know and ripped the gum out of their mouth,” she admitted to the Loose Women panel. “It makes my knees buckle and makes me sweat. It drives me nuts.”

TV presenter Ruth Langsford, meanwhile, has revealed that she’s a sufferer too, confessing on This Morning that husband Eamonn Holmes’ tea slurping forces her to leave the table.

Even the sound of Eamonn's breathing can infuriate her. She previously explained: “If you're too close to me and that breathing, if you're giving me a cuddle – which is lovely…

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“I'm just saying it's lovely but if someone's breathing quite heavily near me I just tune in. I think what happens is I just tune in so there's certain noises.“

She added, “If someone is clicking a pen, everything else around me becomes kind of dulled and all I can hear is that. Even if it’s a stranger, sometimes I have to go, ‘Excuse me, can you stop that!’ I blurt it out and then I’m really embarrassed.”

Ruth's husband added that she tends to “swear quite a lot“ and “become angry“ as it's a “stressful situation“ for Ruth to be exposed to certain noises.

The TV presenter also admitted she sometimes has to leave the table if Eamonn slurps his tea or eats loudly.

Sharing an example, Eamonn added: “Sunday breakfast turns up, it's a massive row. So I just throw the breakfast there and we storm off and we don't talk for the rest of the day.“

Sound bites

People with misophonia are affected emotionally by specific sounds. These sounds vary but often include:

● Eating/chewing

● Heavy breathing

● Coughing

● Babies crying

● People screaming

Other sufferers are triggered by rain falling, people humming, clocks ticking, birdsong or even hearing certain words.

“Misophonia can cause extreme emotional reactions to certain noises such as chewing or breathing or actions such as tapping a table or someone jigging their foot,” says Gordon Harrison, Specsavers chief audiologist.

“Those who have the disorder can feel anxious, angry and distressed when they hear, or see, these triggers. Sometimes it causes an increase in sweating or heart rate, as well as tense muscles. It may lead sufferers to avoid situations such as family dinners or going to a restaurant.

“It can have a big impact on someone’s life depending on the severity of their reactions,” he adds.

According to a study on people with the condition, around 30% become verbally aggressive when hearing their trigger noise.

Brain oversensitivity

“Misophonia doesn’t mean there’s a problem with someone’s ears or hearing, rather research suggests that there could be an oversensitivity in the brain,” explains Gordon.

“There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done,” he adds. A study by Newcastle University found that people with misophonia have a heightened connection between sound and receptors in the brain – in other words, a sort of neurological cross-wiring.

Neuroscientists reviewed the brain scans of people with misophonia and found the emotions area of the brain went into overdrive when they were listening to their trigger sounds.

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“It makes them feel like the sounds are intruding into them, and that’s why they can feel so angry about what they hear,” notes Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, the neuroscientist at Newcastle University who led the study.


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Who is affected?

The disorder can develop from as early as childhood. According to Gordon, “It’s not known exactly why people develop misophonia, but some research suggests it can be connected to mental health disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. Others believe that it could be a habit that forms or that it may run in families.”

Is there a cure?

There’s no cure for misophonia but sufferers can learn coping mechanisms to deal with the reactions to the noises they hate.

“Methods include sound therapy, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy,” says Gordon. “Some people find wearing headphones, earplugs or a hearing aid that emits a sound similar to a waterfall can also be of benefit by causing a distraction.

Stress management techniques such as regular exercise and getting enough sleep can also be helpful.”

He suggests that if you think you may have misophonia, it’s best to ask your GP to refer you for psychological support. “The good news is there is lots of help available and change is possible, so don’t give up,” adds Gordon.

‘I have to wear earplugs when I’m with my boyfriend’

Rhiannon Bates, 24 , is a police call handler who lives with her boyfriend George and suffers with misophonia.

"I’m lucky that my boyfriend George has been so understanding about my misophonia. I can’t eat with him unless I’m wearing earplugs because I can’t stand the noise of chewing.

"I have to wear my earplugs at night, too, because otherwise I’d find the sound of his heavy breathing too distressing."

She added: "George has got used to my disorder and he’s really supportive, which is great because at the moment I have about 30 different trigger sounds, mostly connected to the body, such as coughing, sniffing and swallowing. I’m also struggling with the sound of people walking around in the flats above and below us.

"The sounds that trigger my misophonia make me feel panicky and angry. It’s like a fight-or-flight sensation inside me, so I get a massive surge of adrenaline but not in a positive way. It feels quite overwhelming."

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Rhiannon added: "I never act on that anger though. Instead, I scream into a pillow or pinch my skin.

"My first memory of having a problem with sounds was when I started primary school. All the other children were always playing with the Velcro on their shoes and the noise drove me mad. I couldn’t understand why I hated it so much when others weren’t bothered.

"Growing up, I never told my family that I couldn’t bear eating with them because of the chewing noises. I’d stuff bits of toilet roll in my ears to try to drown it out."

She added: "Things came to a head when I was 15 and sitting an English exam at school. In the silence of the exam room all I could hear was the other kids sniffing. My heart was pounding and I felt like I was having a panic attack. I couldn’t concentrate to do the exam and rushed out in floods of tears.

"I googled what I’d been experiencing and it was a relief to realise that I wasn’t alone. I told Mum, who took me to the GP, and I was referred for talking therapy.

"Over the years I’ve tried cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), anti-anxiety pills, EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) and many other therapies. Though none of them have cured me, some have helped me to cope with my reaction to the sounds."

Rhiannon suggested: "My saviours are my earplugs and my noise-cancelling headphones. I never go out without my headphones and would never go into a shop or on a bus without them. Once when my headphone battery died, it took me two hours to complete what should have been a 30-minute bus journey. I had to keep getting off and waiting for the next bus because people were eating or sneezing.

"I have a group of close friends who are supportive but having misophonia is a very isolating experience. I often miss out on social events. I have been to the cinema with earplugs to block out the popcorn-eating and coughing, but usually I make my excuses.

"I’m not surprised there are some people who act on their anger and become aggressive but I’d never challenge anyone to stop making the noises that drive me mad. I’d love to see more research into the condition and I’m hopeful that one day there will be a cure."

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