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Blog Feature

By: AAST Editor on May 9th, 2019

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Exploding Head Syndrome Won’t Make Your Head Detonate—But It Might Horrify You

strange sleep

Picture it: Just as you’re laying your head down to sleep, you hear a sudden loud noise. It’s frightening and powerful — and it’s all in your head.

If this happens to you, you might be one of the 10-15% of people who suffer from exploding head syndrome, or EHS. The ailment is a bit of a misnomer. Sufferers do not typically experience any pain with this disorder; instead, they have extremely realistic auditory experiences that often sound like explosions.

EHS is somewhat of a modern medical marvel. The first recorded description of ESH was written by physician Silas Weir Mitchell in 1876. One of his patients was experiencing the strange phenomenon, and he described it to Mitchell as a “sense of a pistol shot or blow to the head.” While there are other recorded instances of physicians describing ESH throughout the 20th century, the term itself wasn’t coined until 1988.

As physicians have learned more about this strange disorder, they’ve identified people in history who might’ve suffered from it, including “the Father of Modern Philosophy” René Descartes. twittericon_2 Some argue Descartes’ work was greatly influenced by his disorder, and without it, he would’ve never created his infamous mind-body dualism theory.

So what exactly happens when someone suffers from EHS? Doctors and researchers do not know exactly why those with EHS have such severe auditory hallucinations. It’s a very uncommon disorder, and the sensation itself is extremely brief, albeit frightening. Frequency of these sounds varies, though doctors are unsure why. There is usually no pain associated with the sounds.

Some sufferers report feeling a brief jab-like pain and a flash of light when the sound occurs. Women are more likely to have the syndrome, especially women over the age of 50. It’s a benign disease with no real cure, though some antidepressants have shown reduction in frequency.

No one knows exactly why it occurs, either. Some studies speculate it has some connection to sudden movement in the middle ear component or Eustachian tube, or possibly a brief temporal lobe partial seizure. Some believe it’s a result of stress or extreme fatigue.

The biggest problem for those suffering from EHS is simply that the sounds can be scary, and it’s cumbersome to sleep when it’s especially frequent. For one particularly harrowing account, read Vice writer Michael Segalov’s account of experiencing EHS.