Exploding Head Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

Exploding head syndrome or EHS is a type of sleep disorder characterized by imagined noise rousing a patient from sleep during the stage of non-rapid eye movement sleep or non-REM. The disturbing sound resembles that of a gun exploding near the head or ears (hence the name) that lasts for a few seconds.

While the noise attacks could cause panic, confusion or distress, the disorder itself does not cause pain. EHS is not a rare condition; about 10% of the population suffers from EHS. Women have an increased risk of developing EHS compared to men and the average onset of the condition is 50 years old.

EHS is quite a mysterious condition because very little is known about it and its underlying cause. Most experts believe psychological triggers cause EHS but not enough proof can back up this claim. Some scientists speculate that EHS may be linked to minor temporal lobe seizures or pressure shifts in the middle ear.

Image used under Creative Commons from Olli Henze

Symptoms of Exploding Head Syndrome

Some of the most common symptoms of EHS are:

  • Startling sound – such as gunshot explosion, clashing cymbals or violent bomb explosion – before drifting off to sleep or upon waking up
  • A flash of light follows after the sound attack
  • Insomnia
  • Profuse sweating caused by fear
  • Rapid breathing
  • Daytime sleepiness

At times, the sound isn’t as loud but it is enough to startle the patient. The frequency of the disturbance will vary, some patients experience sound attacks several times in one night, others say the attacks are few and far between. The episodes can cause sleepless nights due to fear and panic.

Causes of Exploding Head Syndrome

To reiterate, the root cause of EHS remains unknown. However, some experts say the condition may be caused by:

  • Seizures of the temporal lobe complex
  • Movement of the Eustachian tube
  • Movements between small parts of the middle ear
  • Withdrawal from drugs

Most patients diagnosed with EHS say the attacks are prevalent when they are extremely stressed so scientists speculate that mental distress may be linked to EHS but more tests are needed to prove this connection.

Image used under Creative Commons from Darron Birgenheier

Treatment and Prevention

At the moment, EHS has no known cure. Most treatments are only designed to eliminate potential triggers. These treatments may include:

Lifestyle Change

High-stress lifestyle could aggravate EHS. Eating healthy, balanced meals every day along with getting enough sleep at night (minimum of 6 hours) may reduce the occurrence of EHS.

Relaxation and Regular Exercise

Regular exercise – particularly non-rigorous regimen – may reduce the occurrence of EHS. Massage therapy, yoga, meditation, a long walk, listening to soothing music, all these known stress-busters may inhibit sound attacks.

Antidepressants

Some experts say antidepressants are an effective treatment for EHS.

Better Sleep Hygiene

Developing a better sleep hygiene may alleviate the symptoms of EHS. Sleep deprivation is a known trigger of EHS so get as much sleep as you can every night. Keeping a sleep diary to record sleep patterns will be helpful to determine the triggers of EHS.