When it comes to phobias, we must bear in mind that they all represent an irrational fear of certain stimuli. Phonophobia is the irrational fear of some specific sounds .

In this article we will see what the symptoms, causes and treatments are in cases of phonophobia, as well as other related pathologies.

What is phonophobia?

As we have seen, phonophobia is the type of phobia based on certain sounds . These sounds do not necessarily have to be loud. It is enough for the person to hear them for a disproportionate reaction of displeasure to occur in the subject with this mental disorder.

The sound of cutlery, the sipping of coffee or soup, the dripping of some liquid, are noises that for the patient with this disorder can be particularly unpleasant and even intolerable.


The symptoms of phonophobia are subjective, that is, they depend only on the feelings of each patient. During the subject’s story, at the time of the interview, the therapist will notice to what extent the alteration is intense . Then, by applying the necessary tests, a diagnostic impression is obtained.

Some of the more common symptoms of phonophobia are as follows:

  • Feeling of displeasure at specific sounds.
  • Irrational anger at specific sounds
  • Irritability to specific sounds .
  • Anxiety.
  • Headache.
  • Stress.
  • Tachycardia
  • Increased sweating, especially on the hands.
  • Avoidance of noisy and crowded places .

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


To date, there is still no certain explanation as to why some subjects have this disorder. It is related to a hypersensitivity in the auditory pathways , but the complexity of the matter lies in the fact that the sounds that cause the discomfort are associated with negative emotions.

A negative experience the person has had in the past (trauma) could generate phonophobia; by associating a specific sound with the traumatic event in the past, discomfort occurs . In this case the primary pathology would be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which would be causing the symptoms of phonophobia as a background illness (comorbidity). However, this is not always the case. There are cases where phonophobia is not associated with any known trauma and the relationship of sound with negative emotions is irrational.

Differential diagnosis

There are more disorders that are associated with this pathology, of which it is important to have knowledge in order to be able to correctly distinguish when each one of them is treated. Hypercusis and misophonia are two disorders that present a lot of similarity with phonophobia. Let’s see their differences.

In cases of hypercusis, there is a pattern of fear of loud noises. People who have it live with a high level of anxiety because they are constantly avoiding situations where the sounds may be loud and sudden .

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

This mental alteration may have organic causes, such as some alteration in ear structures that affect the way a person perceives sounds. It is important to rule out this possibility by referring the patient to an otolaryngologist .

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

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

Phonophobia and misophony 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; it is often downplayed because it is not part of the common diseases with well known causes. But the reality is that significantly affects the quality of life of those who suffer from it .

Now we will see which are the most widely used therapies that have been shown to be significantly effective 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 process of mayeutics, causing the negative feelings to stop being associated with the sound that generates discomfort. It is also complemented with behavioral grounding techniques such as systematic desensitization.

2. Group exposure therapy

In this therapy, the patient is gradually exposed to sound , accompanied by other subjects in the same situation. This method seeks to make the discomfort response disappear.

Once subjects understand that sound does not pose a real danger to them, the level of stress 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 some of the above therapies.

Bibliographic references:

  • Cavallo, V. (1998). International Handbook of Cognitive and Behavioural Treatments for Psychological Disorders. Pergamon.
  • LeBeau R.T., Glenn D., Liao B., Wittchen H.U., Beesdo-Baum K., Ollendick T., Craske M.G. (2010). “Specific phobia: a review of DSM-IV specific phobia and preliminary recommendations for DSM-V”. Depress Anxiety. 27 (2): 148–67.