- If you have phonophobia — also called sonophobia — loud noises can feel overwhelming and cause panic and anxiety.
- Phonophobia is not linked to any type of hearing disorder but may be more likely if you have anxiety or are on the autistic spectrum.
- Treatment approaches include exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation techniques.
Loud noise, especially when unexpected, can be unpleasant or jarring for anyone. If you have phonophobia, your fear of loud noise may be overwhelming, causing you to panic and feel extremely anxious.
Fear of loud noise is referred to as phonophobia, sonophobia, or ligyrophobia. This condition is not caused by hearing loss, or any type of hearing disorder.
Phonophobia is a specific phobia. Specific phobias are an extreme, irrational fear of situations or objects that do not warrant that intense a reaction.
Like all phobias, phonophobia is a treatable anxiety disorder. It is earmarked by an overwhelming dread of loud noise.
A person with this condition may experience deep distress about a loud noise they know is coming, as well as by an unexpected loud noise.
Loud noises can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. Rare is the person who enjoys an incessant car alarm, or shrieking ambulance siren. Some loud noises, such as those made by fireworks, may be more easily tolerated since they’re associated with pleasant things. These are experiences most people can relate to.
However, if you have phonophobia, you will experience a highly intense reaction to any type of loud noise, no matter what its association or cause.
People with this condition feel deep stress and anxiety when they anticipate loud noise. They also have extreme reactions to loud noises, once they occur.
Phonophobia differs from other conditions that have discomfort to sound as a symptom. These include:
- Hyperacusis. This condition is not a phobia. Rather, it is a hearing disorder that causes sounds to feel louder than they actually are. Hyperacusis has a number of causes, including brain injury, Lyme disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Misophonia. This condition is emotional in nature, but is not a phobia. People with misophonia have intense, emotional reactions, such as hatred or panic, to a specific sound, such as a dripping faucet or a person snoring. The sound does not have to be loud to produce this effect.
The symptoms of phonophobia may make it hard to enjoy everyday activities and daily life. A person with this condition may experience these symptoms in anticipation of loud noise, while it is occurring, or afterwards. They include:
- breaking into a sweat
- shortness of breath
- pounding heart or increased heart rate
- chest pain
Phobias of all types can occur in children, as well as in adults. If your child has a severe reaction to loud noise, seeing an audiologist can help you determine if they have phonophobia or an auditory condition such as hyperacusis.
The symptoms of both of these conditions may appear similar in children. Your child may become very distressed by sounds that do not seem overly loud to you. They may cover their ears, become afraid, or try to get away from the sound.
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may sometimes have a fear of loud noises. This reaction can be caused by several underlying factors, including heightened anxiety, sensory sensitivity, or both.
Kids and adults with ASD may experience fear in anticipation of a loud noise that they associate with an unpleasant event.
Those with sensory issues may have hypersensitivity to sound, which causes them to hear things much louder than they actually are. Children with ASD have been known to compare the sound of raindrops to bullets.
In addition, there is some evidence that phobias of all types are common among those on the spectrum.
Phonophobia is a mental health condition that can manifest at any age. Like all specific phobias, its exact cause is not completely understood.
It may be caused by genetic factors. People with a family history that includes anxiety disorders may be more prone to this condition.
Phonophobia may also be caused by external factors, such as a history of long-term childhood trauma, or, a single traumatic incident. In autistic children and in some other children, the traumatic event may seem extreme, but is not actually so. For example, suddenly hearing everyone loudly yell surprise at a birthday party.
In some instances, phonophobia may also be a symptom of another condition. These include:
If your fear of loud noises is interfering with your ability to function or enjoy life, a doctor, such as a therapist, will be able to help you.
Your doctor will diagnose your condition by asking you questions about your symptoms and triggers. Your medical, social, and psychological history will be discussed.
In order to determine if what you have is a specific phobia, your doctor will use the diagnostic criteria established in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Finding help for fear of loud noises
You can find a licensed professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, through these organizations and associations:
There are several types of therapy that are used to treat phobias. Fear of loud noise may be treated through:
- Exposure therapy (systematic desensitization). This is a type of psychotherapy (talk therapy). It uses guided and repeated exposure to the source of your fear. Exposure therapy can be done on an individual basis, or in groups. It can be very effective for the treatment of all types of specific phobias.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a type of psychotherapy that’s also highly effective for the treatment of specific phobia. It uses some elements of exposure therapy, combined with techniques that help you alter negative thoughts and behaviors.
- Relaxation techniques. Activities such as meditation can also help, especially when combined with other treatments.
Therapy with a mental health professional is usually all it takes to help people with phonophobia. Sometimes medications may be prescribed in conjunction with (or instead of) psychotherapy. These include anti-anxiety medications and beta blockers that help reduce the symptoms caused by panic attacks.
If you recognize that you have phonophobia, you have already taken the first step towards conquering it. Phonophobia is a highly treatable condition. It will take work on your part to get past your fear, but positive and powerful results may not take as long to achieve as you may think.
Exposure therapy and CBT can help you experience significant reductions in phobic reactions within 2 to 5 months.
Phonophobia (fear of loud noise) is a highly treatable, specific phobia. This condition can occur in childhood or in adulthood. Therapeutic treatments can be very effective for eliminating or reducing phonophobic reactions. They include exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
In some instances, medication can also help alleviate the anxiety caused by this condition.