Prevalence of Misophonia
How common is misophonia? Many consider it a rare disease, and on rare disease day (the last day of February), many on the Facebook misophonia group express a desire to speak out about misophonia. In the United States, a rare disease has officially been defined as one that affects less than 200,000 people in the US, which is about one in 1,500 people (0.07%). By this definition misophonia is not a rare disease. It is a “rarely known” disorder.
I did my first survey on misophonia in February of 2013 on different characteristics of individuals with misophonia. I was trying to determine how misophonia develops and if there were certain characteristics people with misophonia have in common. I wanted to have a control group to compare some of the personality traits and characteristics, and so I sent the survey to my LinkedIn contacts. Much to my surprise, 5% of my LinkedIn contacts had misophonic reactions. And so I thought, wow, this is not some extremely unusual phenomenon here. In fact, I had people with misophonia popping up all over the place.
I paid for a survey using SurveyMonkey.com, where they randomly solicited individuals who had no connection to misophonia. These were just individuals who were willing to fill out surveys to have fifty cents donated to the cause of their choice. I purchased three hundred and I got ten extra for free. I made sure that the title of the survey did not mention sound or sensitivities. I gave the same survey to a group of people with misophonia to determine a standard of reference for my Survey Monkey group. Out of the 310 people surveyed (50% of them women, 50% men), I found that 15.2% had reactions suggesting misophonia. It was more common among the women (18.6%) than it was among of the men (11.6%).[i] Rather than being a rare disease, which is one in 1,500, it was a rarely known but common disorder with about 225 in 1,500 having misophonia.
That was actually a higher number that I expected. I was expecting 5% to 10%, but it came in at 15%. In 2014, there was a published peer-reviewed study that came out of the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine and their psychology department. They used undergraduate psychology students. (This is very common in college research; they give psychology students a little extra credit for taking a survey or participating in some form of research for the graduate students.) They had almost 500 participants in this study, and 84% were women. Their study was comprehensive enough to see how the misophonia affected the individual’s life. They found that 20% had clinically significant misophonia,[ii] significant meaning they had to spend a good deal of conscious energy resisting or being affected by triggers. They did not find any statistical difference in the prevalence of misophonia in men vs. women.
A recent blog post on the family ancestry website 23andMe.com mentioned an internal study conducted with about 80,000 customers, in which people were asked “Does the sound of other people chewing fill you with rage? (Yes/No/Not Sure).” About 19% replied yes. They also found that the affirmative response was more common in women.[iii] 23andMe reported 20% yes and 80% no (excluding the not sure responses). One internet post indicated there were about 4% not sure. So that would reduce the percentage of “yes” responses from 20% to 19%.
A 2015 PhD dissertation on decreased sound tolerance (hyperacusis, tinnitus, and misophonia) reported 15.6% of participants with clinically significant misophonia, in a mix of college students and community participants[iv]. A higher percentage of males reported misophonia symptoms, but females reported greater severity. This provides further support for the surprisingly high prevalence of misophonia.
The takeaway from this is that misophonia is really quite common – perhaps affecting approximately 15% of adults (or 1 in 6.5 adults). It seems to be more common (or at least more severe) in women than in men, but many, many people suffer in silence, or they are written off as being grouchy, cranky, or irritable. If this number is correct, and research is beginning to confirm it is, there could be forty million people with misophonia in the United States alone – that is 40,000,000 people.
Considering these statistics and the fact that misophonia is not widely studied, if you randomly selected a doctor or therapist and then another individual, it is more likely that the random individual would have misophonia than the doctor or therapist would know about misophonia.
[i] Dozier, 2014
[ii] Wu, Lewin, Murphy, & Storch, 2014
[iii] Accessed from http://blog.23andme.com/23andme-research/something-to-chew-on/ on June 7,2015
[iv] Cash, 2015