Do certain sounds irritate you, sometimes to the point of rage?
- A friend takes out a nail file, and you shudder and dash to another room or immediately put your hands over your ears.
- Every time your co-worker stirs their coffee with a metal spoon, you have to bite your lip to keep from roaring “Stop!” at the clinking.
- You eat your dinner standing in the kitchen, with the oven fan running to block out the sound of your partner’s chewing.
If these scenarios sound a little familiar, it’s quite possible you have misophonia, a condition where certain sounds provoke an extreme emotional reaction. You might think of it as an extreme sensitivity to specific sounds — sounds that people without misophonia can generally ignore.
If you have (or suspect you have) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurodevelopmental condition that often involves hypersensitivity to stimuli, you might wonder about the possible links between these conditions.
Read on for an in-depth exploration, plus a few alternate explanations to consider.
While misophonia literally means “hatred of sound,” people living with the condition might experience a range of emotions when hearing trigger sounds.
Anger tends to be the most common, but others include:
You might also feel trapped or stuck. In fact, it’s not unusual for misophonia triggers to prompt a fight, flight, or freeze response.
Triggers vary widely from person to person, and most sounds could become a trigger.
Many people say mouth sounds, like the sounds made when eating, serve as their biggest triggers. Other common triggers include:
- pets licking, scratching, or grooming themselves
- clicking or tapping
- fabric rubbing
- metallic sounds
- breathing or sighing
Experts have yet to decide whether misophonia is best described as a distinct psychiatric condition or a feature of other conditions. That said, most now recognize it as a condition that can cause serious distress.
They also noted unusual links between the anterior insular cortex and the default mode network, which helps you retrieve memories. This connection suggests unpleasant memories could also play a part in misophonia.
Future research may offer more insight on whether these brain differences contribute to misophonia or show up as a result of the condition.
To date, not much research has specifically examined possible connections between ADHD and misophonia.
In a 2017 large-scale study of people living with misophonia, researchers found that half of the 301 participants also had another diagnosed condition. Among these 150 participants, 12 percent (18 people) had ADHD.
These findings don’t offer conclusive proof of a link, but they do suggest a potential connection.
Plus, it’s worth noting that experts haven’t actually studied misophonia all that long. The condition itself was only named and defined in
Evidence supporting a link between misophonia and ADHD may be limited, but plenty of evidence connects ADHD with a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, including sounds.
To put it simply, people with ADHD often have trouble filtering out and processing unnecessary sensory input, or information from the surrounding environment.
Say you’re sitting in a class lecture with a small group of classmates. Like everyone else, you’re listening to your professor speak. But you have ADHD, and your brain also absorbs all the other sensory information in the room at the same time:
- shifting light patterns filtering through the curtains
- leaves waving in the trees outside
- clicking as the classroom heater switches on
- scribbling pens and pencils
- the tightness of your sock cuffs
- chairs squeaking
- smells of coffee and body lotion
- classmates fidgeting and swinging their legs
These details overload your brain, overwhelming you and making it hard to concentrate on the information you need most: your professor’s lecture.
As with misophonia, this sensory overwhelm can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger. These emotions might prove even more challenging to tolerate and manage if you also have a hard time with emotional regulation, another common concern for people living with ADHD.
In other words, sensory processing issues could resemble misophonia, to the point where it becomes difficult to tell them apart. As an added complication, certain visual triggers also trigger a response for some people with misophonia.
researchersconsider misophonia just another part of general sensory intolerance, not a separate diagnosis. But if you only notice a reaction to sounds, not other sensory information, many experts would probably consider misophonia the best description for your symptoms.
Misophonia might also be linked to a number of other conditions, including:
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Tourette syndrome
- post-traumatic stress disorder
Experts have yet to discover why misophonia seems to show up more often in people living with these conditions. But it’s also worth considering other significant connections and overlap between ADHD and depression, anxiety, or OCD:
Many people have both ADHD and anxiety. But it’s also possible to confuse one for the other, since some anxiety and ADHD symptoms can resemble each other:
- restlessness and fidgeting
- difficulty relaxing or feeling calm
- difficulty managing emotions, stress, and your response to fear
- trouble with memory, concentration, and focus
Experts have found plenty of support for a link between anxiety and misophonia. In fact, older research also suggests it might develop as a symptom of generalized anxiety, as well as OCD or schizotypal personality disorder.
So, while your misophonia could certainly be linked to ADHD, it could also relate to anxiety.
As mentioned above, misophonia might occur as a symptom of OCD rather than an independent concern, and this is where things get a little complicated. Some
Like misophonia and ADHD, OCD often appears in childhood. And while it’s certainly not impossible to experience misophonia in addition to both OCD and ADHD,
Authors of a 2018 study note that misophonia seems closely connected to OCD obsessions. So, if you live with misophonia and also notice obsessive thoughts, or any other OCD symptoms, you might have OCD — not ADHD.
Experts may not often misdiagnose depression as ADHD, but there’s another important link to consider: Many people living with ADHD also have depression.
You can say the same, though, for people living with misophonia. As a matter of fact, depression is one of the mental health conditions most commonly linked to misophonia.
The misophonia-as-a-symptom theory could help explain this link, sure. But it’s also true that severe misophonia symptoms could lead you to avoid any situations where you might hear triggering sounds.
Depending on your triggers, this could mean:
- avoiding parties and other social events
- keeping your distance from loved ones
- turning down invitations to restaurants or anywhere else people eat
- struggling to manage emotional responses to sound at school, work, or home
- choosing not to have a pet, even though you really want one
In short, misophonia could lead to lifestyle changes that have a negative affect on your mood and relationships and factor into symptoms of depression.
Plus, since it seems both misophonia and ADHD can play a part in depression for some people, having misophonia as well as ADHD could raise depression risk.
It never hurts to connect with a therapist when you notice any symptoms that cause lingering mental or emotional distress.
Trained mental health professionals can help you identify possible causes of those symptoms, plus provide support and information about therapy and other helpful treatments for ADHD symptoms, including hypersensitivity. If misophonia does relate to ADHD, the right treatment could make a difference.
They can also offer guidance on coping tips and potential treatment options for misophonia. Even though misophonia has no known cure, a number of strategies appear to have a positive impact on symptoms:
- tinnitus retraining therapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- stress inoculation training
- exposure therapy
In therapy, you can also begin exploring possible changes that might help you avoid or better tolerate sound triggers in your daily life. These might include things like:
- using white noise or wearing headphones at work
- using grounding techniques to manage your response to triggers
- setting up quiet zones at home
- self-care strategies to improve overall well-being
Help from a therapist becomes even more essential if you notice feelings of anxiety or depression, or find yourself avoiding important people and parts of your life.
Experts haven’t found much evidence to explain the possible link between ADHD and misophonia, but as research goes, it’s early days. Future studies may offer more insight about the connection between the two.
At the end of the day, what really matters is getting support for any symptoms that disrupt your life and cause distress, whether those symptoms seem related to ADHD, misophonia, or anything else.
Since mental health professionals increasingly recognize misophonia as a real concern — especially for people who also have ADHD or certain mental health conditions — reaching out to a therapist could offer a key to improvement.
Crystal Raypole writes for Healthline and Psych Central. Her fields of interest include Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health, along with books, books, and more books. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues. She lives in Washington with her son and a lovably recalcitrant cat.