The AMA has a very useful series called “What doctors wish patients knew about…“ The most recent one is about a condition called “misphonia.” This is a condition in which seemingly innocuous sounds can trigger an intense (and seemingly out of proportion) emotional response such as a “fight or flight” reaction. Athough I didn’t know it had a name, I have known about this condition since I was a child because my father had it in relation to cracking chewing gum. The sound of someone cracking their chewing gum sounds exactly like a stick breaking in the jungle. To my father, who spent most of WWII in the jungles of New Guinea, that sound meant you were about to be attacked. More than 30 years later, a woman chewing her gum open-mouthed never knew how close she came to a painful demise when she cracked her gum as she walked behind my father as he tried on a pair of shoes. He was in his 70’s, but could still have inflicted some serious harm if he hadn’t stopped himself — once he had jumped to his feet and grabbed the chair. My friend and former patient Morgan McCoy discussed what the sound of beeping electronics does to her – thanks to having spent weeks in an intensive care unit.

As children, my sister and I took it for granted that we could never, ever chew gum and we explained to our little friends that gum chewing was never allowed in our house. As an adult I told my children that they could not under any circumstances, chew gum around Grandpa. We all accepted it as Dad’s “little quirk, “ but now I know it was a lot more than that. I suspect misphonia is common among combat veterans others who have survived intense, life-threatening situations. I don’t know whether giving the condition a name is helpful to those who are affected by it, but maybe doing so will make it easier for us to talk about it with patients and friends.