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Exploding Head Syndrome

What is Exploding Head  Syndrome ?

It is a mysterious condition or phenomenon wherein a patient will experience the sudden onset of a loud noise or explosion emanating from within their head. The noise generally tends to be brief and can be compared to a roar, screams, gunshot, buzzing or a constant ringing sound. Exploding head syndrome is a part of a group of disorders known as parasomnia.

People with the condition experience different kinds of sounds as per the individual cases. A few may not even be able to decipher the sound as they have just woken up.

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The sound generally occurs when the patient has just fallen asleep, or 1 or 2 hours after falling asleep. It may not be caused due to a dream. Even though the noise is quite loud, it is generally not followed by pain. A person with exploding head syndrome may suffer many attacks within a few days or weeks, and then may not experience any attacks for many months. The person with exploding head syndrome may experience breathing problems, anxiety, fear and increased heart rate. On occasions, the loud noises may be followed by perceived flashes of extreme brightness.

Exploding head syndrome is generally mild in nature and does not require any extensive treatment.

Symptoms of exploding head syndrome

A Welsh psychiatrist and physician, Robert Armstrong-Jones was the first one to report the symptoms of exploding head syndrome. He described the disorder as one that leads to an exploding sensation within the head. Individuals affected by exploding head syndrome usually awakened from their sleep after the onset of the explosive sound. The feeling usually remained for a few seconds.

In 1989, a British neurologist John M. S. Pearce, gave a complete description of the condition. He reported that exploding head syndrome was really a common condition in individuals older than 50 years old.

  • Some of the different kinds of sounds that a person with exploding head syndrome may experience are listed below. The noises generally originate from within the head and include sounds like:
    • Gunshots or explosions
    • A bang that is similar to one that we hear when a ting can is loudly banged
    • The crashing of waves into rocks
    • The slamming of a door
    • Screams or extremely loud voices
    • Buzzing
    • Ringing noises
    • Individuals with exploding head syndrome may also experience an adrenalin kick or an intense rush passing within their heads, which may occasionally occur multiple times.
    • On a few occasions, flashes of light may also accompany the sounds.
    • A few patients may become familiarized with the resultant sensations of panic and fear that follow an attack. This may result in an end to such conscious experience.
    • Most cases of exploding head syndrome tend to occur when the patient is somewhere in between the state of being awake and being asleep
    • Some cases of exploding head syndrome tend to affect only the left side of the head, indicating that the disorder may begin from inner ear area.
    • Some patients may develop a fear of resting or sleeping due to repetitive episodes of exploding head syndrome. This can eventually result in the development of other sleep disorders like insomnia
    • A few individuals with exploding head syndrome may also experience some other rare symptoms like decreased appetite, excessive laughter and increased heavy breathing

Causes of Exploding Head Syndrome

The exact cause of exploding head syndrome is unknown. However, a few doctors have associated the condition with severe fatigue and stress. Any person can develop the disorder at any age, but women are at an increasing risk to developing it as compared to men. Individuals over the age of 50 year are at greater risk to develop exploding head syndrome, but the condition can be diagnosed in ten year olds as well. An episode of exploding head syndrome may be just a one-time episode, or there may be multiple episodes with decreasing or increasing number of attacks. Sometimes the attacks may not occur for prolonged periods.

The mechanism of exploding head syndrome is also unknown. However, different studies suggest that the condition may be the result of some unexpected movement of the Eustachian tube or some other part of the middle ear; or a simple seizure occurring in the temporal lobe, where hearing nerve cells are located, may also result in exploding head syndrome

Withdrawal from medications known as SSRIs, is also known to result in exploding head syndrome

Exploding Head Syndrome Treatment

Exploding head syndrome has no known cure.

There is some evidence which indicates that the use of the below listed drugs may help alleviate the symptoms of exploding head syndrome:

  • An antidepressant known as clomipramine
  • Certain stimulants
  • A few types of sedatives

Individuals affected by exploding head syndrome generally have to wait for the symptoms of the condition to disappear on their own. However, this can happen in a day, a few months or even many years.

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