Exploding head syndrome is characterized by hearing acute loud noises that do not have an external cause. These situations mostly take place when going to sleep or waking up. These noises are usually painless but generate anxiety as the one experiencing them doesn’t understand what causes the symptom.
The patient can even believe these noises are connected to more severe health problems such as seizures or brain hemorrhages. Some might even believe there the noises are caused by unnatural events
There are some theories regarding the underlying cause. Some experts believe exploding head syndrome is connected to cerebral problems as the brain supposedly encounters issues when shutting down during the sleeping phase.
Normally, when people fall asleep, some areas of the brain (the motor, auditory and visual sectors) “turn off” during various sleep stages.
Study author Brian Sharpless, PhD, of Washington State University believes that in the case of exploding head syndrome, auditory neurons, instead of being shut down, are stimulated. This might explain why some people “hear these crazy-loud noises that you can’t explain”.
This condition apparently originates from the brainstem’s reticular formation which is the same area involved in isolated sleep paralysis defined as a situation where the person can’t move or speak upon waking up. Sleep paralysis is frequently associated with fear.
The study, which was the largest research on the subject of exploding head syndrome, consisted of 211 undergraduate students being tested for both exploding head syndrome and isolated sleep paralysis. They were examined through interviews held by psychologists or graduate students.
About 18 percent (or 1 in 5) of participants said they went through exploding head syndrome at least once in their lives. More than 37 percent (approximately one third) of these participants also reported to have experienced isolated sleep paralysis.
Those who manifested exploding head syndrome frequently reported “clinically significant levels of fear”. A small number (about 3 percent) reported “clinically significant distress and impairment” while experiencing these episodes.
Although there is currently no medication that could treat this condition, Dr. Sharpless considers the study will raise awareness among doctors who will now be able to offer patients with this condition a well-deserved explanation.
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