Phonophobia (fear of certain sounds): symptoms, causes and treatment

When it comes to phobias, it should be kept in mind that they all represent an irrational fear of certain stimuli. Phonophobia is the irrational fear of certain specific sounds.

In this article, we will see what are the symptoms, causes and treatments for phonophobia, as well as other associated pathologies.

    What is phonophobia?

    As we have seen, phonophobia is the type of phobia based on certain sounds. These sounds don’t have to be loud. It is enough for the person to come and hear them for a disproportionate reaction of discontent to occur in the subject with this mental disorder.

    The noise of cutlery, the fact of sipping coffee or soup, the flow of a liquid, are noises which, for the patient with this disorder, can be particularly unpleasant and even intolerable.


    Symptoms of phonophobia are subjective, that is, they depend only on the sensations of each patient. When telling the subject, during the interview, the therapist will notice how intense is its alteration. Then, by applying the necessary tests, a diagnostic fingerprint is obtained.

    Some of the most common symptoms of phonophobia are:

    • Feeling unhappy with specific sounds.
    • Irrational anger at specific sounds.
    • Irritability with specific sounds.
    • Anxiety.
    • Headache.
    • Stress.
    • tachycardia
    • Increased sweating, especially on the hands.
    • Avoid noisy and crowded places.

    It often happens that these symptoms persist even after the person has moved away from the noise of discomfort, due to the fact that the memory of this noise remains in the subject’s memory for a few minutes.

    the causes

    To this day, there is still no precise explanation as to why some people have this disorder. It is linked to hypersensitivity to the auditory pathwaysBut the complexity of the matter is that the sounds that cause discomfort are associated with negative emotions.

    A negative experience that the person has had in the past (trauma) could lead to phonophobia; at’ associate a specific sound with the traumatic event of the past, discomfort arises. In this case, the primary pathology would be post-traumatic stress disorder, which would be at the origin of the symptoms of phonophobia as the underlying disease (comorbidity). However, this is not always the case. There are cases where phonophobia is not associated with any known trauma and the relationship between sound and negative emotions is irrational.

      differential diagnosis

      There are more disorders associated with this pathology, which it is important to know in order to clearly distinguish them when it comes to each of them. Hypercussia and misophonia these are two disorders that are very similar to phonophobia. Let’s look at the differences.

      In cases of hypercussia, a model of fear of loud noises is presented. People who have it live with a high level of anxiety because they constantly avoid situations where sounds can be loud and sudden.

      For example, a patient with hypercussia before turning on the radio will make sure to turn the volume down to minimum and then gradually increase it to avoid sudden exposure to noise.

      This mental disorder can have organic causes, such as an alteration in the structures of the ear that affects the way a person perceives sound. It is important to rule out this possibility when referring the patient to an otolaryngologist..

      In the case of misophonia, what happens is that the subject experiences discomfort with noises that are not necessarily loud. As with phonophobia, anxiety can come from insignificant sound, no matter how loud it is.

      The difference between misophonia and phonophobia is the intensity at which the sound irritates the person. In case of phonophobia the patient is almost unable to tolerate the annoying sound, While misophonia is milder and the individual has more control over himself.

      Phonophobia and misophonia disorders do not present organic alterations in patients, these are of purely psychological origin.

      Treatment: effective therapies

      Sometimes phonophobia as a mental disorder is not taken seriously; they usually interfere with the fact that it is not part of common diseases, the causes of which are well known. But the reality is that it significantly affects the quality of life of those who suffer from it.

      We will now see which therapies are the most used and which have been shown to have significant effectiveness in the case of this type of phobia.

      1. Cognitive behavioral therapy

      This method consists of conversational therapy sessions, where the therapist confronts the patient’s irrational thoughts through a maieutic process, removing the association of negative feelings with the sound that generates discomfort. It is also supplemented with basic behavioral techniques such as systematic desensitization.

      2. Group exposure therapy

      In this therapy, the patient it is gradually subjected to the exposure of sounds, Accompanied by other subjects who present their same situation. This method seeks to make the discomfort response disappear.

      Once the subjects understand that the sound does not represent a real danger to them. the stress level should decrease.

      3. Relaxation techniques

      Relationship techniques are diverse and include breathing exercises, guided visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques help patients control their emotions, especially those that are negative and related to sound.

      Relaxation techniques can be implemented in conjunction with any of the above therapies.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Cavallo, V. (1998). International Manual of Cognitive and Behavioral Treatments for Psychological Disorders. Pergamum.
      • LeBeau RT, Glenn D., Liao B., Wittchen HU, Beesdo-Baum K., Ollendick T., Craske MG (2010). “Specific phobia: A review of the specific phobia of DSM-IV and preliminary recommendations for DSM-V.” Reduce your anxiety. 27 (2): 148-67.

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