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Date of last update: 8/24/2017.

Forum Name: Psychiatric Topics

Question: Extreme noise/visual irritation.

 rsingleton - Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:28 pm

Hi. I'm hoping some one might be able to point me in the right direction for help with the problem outlined below. It's getting more and more severe and I'm getting more shut down by it. I'm in my late 40's now and saw my first therapist for this in college. Since then I've seen a total of 7 therapists; two psychiatrists, three psychologists and two hypnotherapists. None of them were able to help and none of them really seemed familiar with this type of issue --they didn't know of similar cases and didn't seem to have any particular insight on how to approach it. I've got to believe that somewhere out there is a professional who will hear this story and know what it is and how to approach it and that's what I'm hoping to find here.

My "problem", as best I can describe it because it's rather strange, is with severe irritation to particular noises and visual inputs although using the word "severe" is a tremendous understatement. These "irritations" can enrage me to an extent it's difficult to describe. It's almost like a switch is flipped in my brain. These irritations started when I was around 6 years old with just one stimulus. Unfortunately, over time that one "stimulus" has grown to include many other things that are vaguely similar to the original stimulus. I'll try not to write on forever but here's a synopsis of things from the beginning.

Around six years old, my Mom's snapping of her gum began to bother me. She was a prolific gum chewer and almost every other chew of her jaw would produce a pop from her gum. (Just writing this angers me enough to want to throw my ****ing keyboard out the window). Soon, it was not just the snapping that bothered me but merely the sight of her chewing gum would do it as well although the actual popping noise still produced the most rage. I dealt with it by trying to put up with it, avoiding it, complaining about it, getting her to throw out her gum but whatever I did was no match for the rage that would come on when exposed to this. I could never put a dent in it. When exposed to someone else who was popping their gum, I would flee if I could.
--I now think of my Mom's gum popping as the "original and primary" irritation.

Within less than a year, this irritation had grown to include my family's eating noises. (I now think of all the other irritations that grew from the original gum popping as "secondary.")
I hated to sit down at the table with my family for meals or be around my brother when he ate his cereal in the morning. I would throw tantrums at the table and get sent to my room to eat; this was a huge relief because i was away from the irritation. When it became obvious to my parents sending me to my room wasn't a good solution, they forced me to stay at the table for meals. This was excruciatingly unbearably and I would sit there and try and put up with it, kind of feeling like my head was going to explode the whole time and some how make it through most meals. Things that were crunchy were the worst; salad, chips, raw vegetables, carrots etc.

Little by little, the problem expanded. Soon, my family's breathing noises began to bother me. Sleeping with some one else in the room, overnight camping trips or a stay in a motel room with the family were terrible. Then, I guess "building" on the eating noises, I couldn't stand hearing the clink and clatter of my family using their spoons/knife/forks while eating ie I'm in my bedroom with the door shut and my Dad's eating his bowl of cereal in the kitchen and a million frigging times his spoon hits the bowl, especially at the end when he just has to get every single last molecule of milk and cereal out of the bowl. Here's another weird one; my Dad would always sit in the living room or in front of the TV with his legs crossed and the ankle of his crossed leg he would rotate around and around and around. I couldn't stand this.
My response to living where so many things drove me crazy was to spend as much time alone away from my family as possible.

Up through high school, the number of items that bothered me "grew" slowly. And here's an interesting observation: the original, primary irritation of my Mom's popping gum that enraged me so much ..... if a stranger popped their gum, it would produce a huge reaction from me while if this stranger did something that was a "secondary" irritation, it wouldn't bother me as much. ie I could be in a cafeteria with friends eating and it wasn't much of a problem; I could be with a friend who was chewing gum but not popping it and it would bug me but not enrage me, I could be in a restaurant with friends and do ok. As I got older this began to change. Even by the time I was into high school I was noticing I could no longer go to a movie because of all the people eating their ****ing popcorn. All that chewing noise would just enrage me. Now it wasn't just my family's chewing noises but others chewing crunchy stuff that would do it.

Into college and for the last 20+ years since, my irritations have grown to include many more things and my reactions to them are stronger and quicker. I've been dumbfounded by this over the years and think it's the strangest thing. I avoid restaurants, movie theaters and will never ever put myself in a group situation such as attending a play, lecture or talk. There's always someone there doing something that sets me off. Still at the top of the list is popping gum or even the sight of someone chewing gum; I can't even stand to have the TV on a baseball game because so many of the players chew gum. Clicking, snapping noises are bad, finger nail clippers are the worst.
But many other things do it as well. Here's one of them that's bizarre: almost any oscillatory, repetitive motion someone does pisses me off ie I'm in a book store in front of a row of books and out of the corner of my eye I see someone who's sitting in a chair and bouncing their leg up and down, I hate it. Or I'm in my car at a stop light and the women in front of me is repetitively curling a length of her hair around her finger, over and over and over again, I can't stand it a have to look away. Noise and clatter in general now puts me on edge to the extreme.
It feels to me as if there's literally a physical nerve path in my brain that's burned into place and somehow all these stimuli find their way onto this burned in path that goes straight to my centers for rage.

Through the psychiatrist's I've tried many of the modern antidepressants and also gave Depakote and Neurontin a try. None of these had an effect on the irritations. One psychologist tried some learned relaxation responses and another (who was quite good and I spent multiple years with) did more conventional therapy and while I got lot of insight from it, it also had zero effect on the irritations. Needless to say, living like I do is a huge set up for depression. But at least I feel there's a reason for the depression; I think if anyone lived this way depression would be an issue.
The only other thing I can add is this problem with noises apparently began after returning from a stay in the hospital when I was around 6. I was there for a week with a blood infection, continuously had a very high fever and was delirious for some of the time due to the fever. My parents tell me there were a couple days when the docs were giving them a poor prognosis for me. My Mom says she thinks it was sometime after this that I began getting weird about noises. I'm not sure there's any link. It definitely could be a coincidence.
Anyone have any idea's on this? My resiliency is almost exhausted and life is quite difficult.
 Faye Lang, RN, MSW - Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:51 pm

Hello, rsingleton,

First, I apologize for the very late response to your post. I hope I can provide some information to you, despite the lateness. You are certainly dealing with a complex situation.

There can be physical reasons for hypersensitivity to noises/sounds. A dietary deficiency of Magnesium has been identified with this issue; also, using Aspartame, and use of "ototoxic" medications. Such medications inlcude certain antibiotics, such as: erythromycin, gentamycin or tobramycin; some diuretics; Advil, aspirin, Benadryl, beta-blockers, norpramin, Tofranil, ibuprofen, and Tegretol. Your childhood illness requiring antibiotics is interesting in view of the contribution of the antibiotics noted above. Checking your medical records might be helpful to you.

Stress and anxiety are known to contribute to auditory hypersensitivity. Your response to the movements of others is more difficult. Opthalmologic migraines can have a definite response to movements, but it causes the feeling of one's head spinning and can result in short term loss of consciousness, rather than rage. There has been some research that suggests there may be some influence from abnormal neurons within the limbic system in the brain, but it remains inconclusive.

A low anger threshold is more likely to be an environmental response, much as you describe to snapping gum, eating noises, and irritating movements. When a person is irritated by a type of noise or movement, that person becomes more sensitive to them and develops hyperawareness and starts to notice the noises and movements everywhere. Because one cannot control the noises or movements of other people, one bottles it up, and when something is bottled up, it will eventually need venting, which can be termed "enraged." Such sensitivity/hyperawareness can become obsessive and create increasing anxiety, which becomes a vicious cycle. I personally believe that it can be an entrenched control issue, which can reflect an impaired self image. Anxiety-focused treatment can help, but desensitization and behavioral therapy are more likely to help extinguish the intensity of the response.

I hope this is helpful to you. Good luck to you.

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