Our world is filled with different phobias that seem almost impossible to believe, a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth, a fear of numbers, or a fear of the color yellow, but These fears all share one characteristic: they are very real to those who experience it. The same goes for phonophobia, defined as an abnormal and unwarranted fear of sound. Phonophobia is interesting because the sounds feared are very normal everyday sounds, like doors closing, traffic, sounds in the kitchen, or even loud speech. While none of these sounds are considered damaging or dangerous, they do lead to a strong fear reaction for those with phonophobia. There is a chance that phonophobia may be caused by or related to hyperacusis, which is an abnormally strong reaction to sound, but they are not the same thing. Let’s unpack the details of phonophobia and go into potential treatment options.
When is a fear of loud noises a phobia?
We can probably all agree that hearing loud sounds can be uncomfortable, especially over long periods of time. Typically, people don’t relish being subjected to hours of an ongoing car alarm or having someone scream at them incessantly for hours on end. We can all agree those are unpleasant, but there are loud sounds with positive associations that people do enjoy, like concerts or fireworks. Though it may be loud, the attachment to a fun event makes them easier to tolerate.
But for someone with phonophobia, no matter what association a loud sound may have, it is still triggering, stressful, and terrifying. People who have this condition experience two very real stress reactions. The first is mounting anxiety in anticipation of the loud noise, and the other is a highly intense reaction of fear and stress once the sounds do occur. If loud noises bother you slightly, then that’s normal. But if even the thought of there being loud noises elicits a fear response, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a phobia.
What causes a fear of loud noises?
Phonophobia is a complicated condition that’s difficult to understand and is considered a mental health condition. Like all specific phobias, its cause is not fully understood. There are many theories out there on what it may be caused by. Some believe genetics play a part, while others say that people with a family history of anxiety disorders may be more likely to suffer from Phonophobia.
There is also the fact that phonophobia could be caused by external factors, like a history of trauma, or even a single traumatic event. In some cases, like with children on the autism spectrum, the loud event may seem extreme for them, but it’s a relatively peaceful occurrence, like people yelling “surprise!” at a birthday party. The cause is always different, but the experience is always the same, unadulterated fear.
Are there other conditions that make sounds uncomfortable?
While phonophobia is a fear of loud sounds, there are a few other conditions out there that make sounds uncomfortable for people. The most well-known ones are:
● Hyperacusis: This hearing disorder causes sounds to feel louder than they actually are. There are a number of causes related to hyperacusis, like brain injury, Lyme disease, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Note, this is not a phobia, but a hearing condition.
● Misophonia: This condition is an emotional one, but scientists have actually found there is a genetic marker for it too. Misophonia is a strong emotional response, sometimes as strong as hatred or panic, to the sound of people chewing food, a dripping faucet, or a person snoring. The sounds do not have to be loud to lead to a strong response.
Are symptoms different in children?
A person with phonophobia may have a hard time enjoying simple everyday activities because They are constantly anticipating a loud sound. They may experience certain symptoms either before, during, or after an activity that may have loud sounds, such as:
● Sudden sweating
● Shortness of breath
● Increased heart rate
● Chest pain
Unfortunately, phobias can occur in children just as much as in adults. If you notice your child having a severe reaction to a loud noise, see an audiologist. With the help of a hearing care professional, you’ll be able to determine if your child has phonophobia, or if they have a conditions like hyperacusis. And make note of the list of symptoms above, as the symptoms of Both conditions could appear very similar in children. A child may cover their ears, try to get away from the sound, or even become afraid. Pay attention to their reactions and go from there.
How is fear of loud noises diagnosed?
Once you have established with an audiologist that you do not have hyperacusis, and if your Fear of loud noises is interfering with your daily life, so it may be a good idea to see a therapist. Your doctor will ask screening questions about your symptoms and triggers to diagnose you. They will also use the diagnostic criteria established in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to determine if you have a specific phobia.
The important thing to remember is not to be embarrassed and to seek help as soon as you
can. The sooner you address the phobia, the better the chances of finding ways to cope. There
are a few different strategies out there to help with treating phonophobia.
How is fear of loud noises treated?
While there are no cures for phobias, there are a variety of different therapies one can try to address phonophobia. Like most therapies, if one style doesn’t work, don’t give up! Try another one. There is bound to be one that works well for you.
● Exposure therapy, also known as systematic desensitization may be an option. This kind of treatment involves talk therapy in conjunction with repeated exposure to the source of your fear. It can be done both individually and in group sessions. Experts have found success with this strategy for countless other types of phobias.
● Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a kind of psychotherapy that has shown positive results in addressing specific phobias. It uses a mix of exposure therapy along with strategies that help individuals alter their negative thoughts or behaviors.
● Calming activities like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can also help, especially when combined with other treatments. The ability to calm the nervous system can go a long way in reducing the fear response.
The good news is that therapy with a mental health professional is usually all you need to address phonophobia. In some cases, a doctor may choose to prescribe medication to be used in addition to the therapy. This usually includes anti-anxiety medications or beta blockers to help reduce the symptoms brought on by panic attacks.
What’s the outlook for people with a fear of loud noises?
If you recognize that you have phonophobia, then you’ve already taken the most difficult step in your treatment. With that knowledge in hand, you can now work toward addressing a very
treatable condition. While at times it may seem like phonophobia has the upper hand, it doesn’t.
You’ll have to work hard to get past your fear, but you will conquer it, and who knows? You may crack it sooner than you think. Exposure therapy and CBT have been known to show improvement within two to five months. The important thing is to keep trying.
Nobody likes living in fear, and a fear of loud noises can be intrusive and disruptive. If you have a hard time with loud sounds and you’re not sure what the cause may be, start by visiting an audiologist. They will perform all the necessary tests to see if you have hyperacusis, or if it’s phonophobia. From there, you’ll have all the information you need to address the issue head-on.