Exploding Head Syndrome - Symptoms, Causes and Treatment



What is exploding head syndrome? It is a parasomnia wherein an undesired event comes along with sleep. It usually is in the form of a loud noise that you suddenly hear before falling asleep. Sometimes you imagine the noise in your head as you wake up in the night. 

The loud noise could be in the form of a crashing cymbals, a bomb explosion, or a sound of a gun. (1)

What are exploding head syndrome symptoms?

  • A perception of loud sound with bright flashes just before falling asleep or after waking up in the middle of the night
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty of breathing
  • The noise in your head suddenly wake you up with a sense of fright
The symptoms vary from one person to another. According to the American Sleep Association, physical pain is not present in EHS. (2)
Image 1 : A woman who is having trouble sleeping at night because of exploding head syndrome
Photo Source : www.crystalinks.com


Figure 2 :A polysomnogram procedure in a patient suffering from exploding head syndrome
Picture Source : thehealthysleep.in

 

Who are at risk?

Exploding head syndrome (EHS) can affect anyone, but the prevalence is higher in women. Those who are 50 years old and above are at risk too. However, even as young as 10 years old could experience a sudden exploding head syndrome. (3)

 

Causes of exploding head syndrome?

The actual cause of EHS is still unknown up to this time. It could be associated with stress and fatigue (physical and mental). It could be caused by minor seizures that affect the temporal lobe of the brain. A sudden shift in the components of the middle ear might also lead to episode of exploding head syndrome. (4)

 

Is Exploding Head Syndrome dangerous?

Exploding head syndrome can be very alarming to someone who heard or read it. Will it cause the head to explode? The truth of the matter is there is no explosion and not possess any danger. However, it can interfere with your sleep.

In fact, some people become anxious when going to sleep because they feel like they will experience another episode of exploding head syndrome. EHS is a true condition and it needs to be addressed the best way possible.

Exploding head syndrome usually occurs in the state wherein the person is in the middle of sleep and complete alertness. As a person drifts to sleep, there will be an involuntary spasm of the muscle (hypnagogic jerk). It could occur abruptly or can be triggered by an external stimulus such as a sound or a light. Those experiencing exploding head syndrome have hypnagogic jerk episode as a natural response of the body as it transits from a state of alertness. The nerves go awry during the transitional phase. (4, 5)

 

Exploding head syndrome and sleep paralysis

Exploding head syndrome and sleep paralysis are often linked together. In the case of sleep paralysis, you are feeling awake, but you cannot move your body. What’s common between sleep paralysis and EHS is the changeover between the state of alertness and sleep.

As with the sleep paralysis condition, a part of the brain is in the rapid eye movement sleep while the other areas of the brain are in the conscious state. In layman’s explanation, it is like you are dreaming while you are awake. What makes it even scary is you are experiencing auditory hallucination. You hear things and sometimes feel things that are not actually there. (6)

 

Diagnosis

If you are experiencing exploding head syndrome and it disrupts your sleep, then the best thing to do is to consult a sleep specialist. This is necessary, especially if exploding head syndrome is making you feel anxious and distressful.

The doctor will thoroughly assess your condition by asking a few information such as how and when the episode began and how long the episode lasts. The doctor will also review your past medical history and past surgical history, including the medications you’ve taken in the past as well as today. (7)

If you suffered from sleep disorder before, then you have to inform your doctor. The same things goes if you have a family history of sleep-related conditions. Trace your sleeping pattern by filling out a sleep diary for 15 days. Give the diary to your doctor to properly assess your sleeping pattern and find out what problems could possibly lead to exploding head syndrome.

In addition, the doctor will conduct a polysomnogram, or overnight sleep study, especially if the exploding head syndrome is disturbing your sleep. The polysomnogram will chart the brain waves, breathing, and heartbeat while you are asleep. The purpose of this study is to find out whether the sounds you hear in your head correlates with other sleep disorder. (7)

 

Exploding head syndrome Treatment

What is the cure for exploding head syndrome? The root cause of the problem should be addressed first. If the exploding head syndrome is caused by fatigue or stress, the doctor will come up with stress management methods for the patient to try. This includes taking a hot bath before going to bed at night, drinking warm milk, meditation, and yoga.

Reading books or going for a short walk before going to bed also improves sleep. Do not take alcoholic beverages before going to bed as it can cause sleep disturbances. (8)

According to American Sleep Association (ASA), some drugs cause sleep disturbances. If you are taking any medications, you should use it moderately to significantly improve the symptoms of exploding head syndrome. If you have tried the relaxation techniques mentioned above, but nothing seemed to work, the best thing to do is to ask medications from your doctor or sleep specialist. Sometimes, the doctor recommend clomipramine, one of the drug of choice for exploding head syndrome.

Some studies revealed that clomipramine can help in the treatment and management of exploding head symptoms. You should see a sleep specialist of a doctor if you want to take medications for exploding head syndrome.

In many people, exploding head syndrome problem disappear on its own. To significantly lessen the episode of exploding head syndrome, you have to limit your exposure to sleep and get enough sleep. The average sleep an adult need is between six and eight hours of sleep per night. (9, 10)

References:
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org
  2. www.sleepeducation.org
  3. www.sleepassociation.org
  4. www.livescience.com
  5. www.theatlantic.com
  6. www.nosleeplessnights.com
  7. https://syndromespedia.com
  8. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  9. medicalfuturist.com
  10. io9.gizmodo.com