Exploding Head Syndrome

What is exploding head syndrome? Does your head actually explode due to some disease? I am sure you are wondering the same thing when you read or hear about it the first time. 

While exploding head syndrome might sound scary and serious at first, it is not the case at all. Contrary to what the name of the disease suggests, the disorder is entirely harmless. In fact, it is a common sleeping disorder that is prevalent in approximately 10% of the total population

Keep reading to learn more about exploding head syndrome and how you can diagnose and treat it effectively in the following article. 

What is Exploding Head Syndrome?

Exploding head syndrome or EHS is classified under a group of sleeping disorders known as parasomnias. It most commonly occurs in the night, especially when you are transitioning between sleep and wakefulness. 

Beams of light.

Typically, you will experience imaginary sensations and sounds, including loud bangs or sharp and intense beams of light flashing in your eyes. Besides this, these episodes last for only a few milliseconds and do not cause any harm to the person. 

However, they can leave the person startled, confused, and anxious when they wake up from an episode of EHS. 

In addition to this, people who go through these episodes multiple times in one night might also experience intense arousal. As a result, it can lead to further sleep loss during the night.

Symptoms of Exploding Head Syndrome

While symptoms of EHS vary from person to person, loud noise is a common occurrence in exploding head syndrome. Although these sounds are completely painless and a mere hallucination, they feel very realistic and jolt people awake from their sleep.  

Besides this, fear, distress, and myoclonic jerks are common symptoms that follow an episode of EHS. It might even result in the person waking up with an increased heart rate and prevent them from falling back to sleep. 

Typically, these episodes usually occur when a person is transitioning from one sleep stage to another. Some people might even experience intense flashing of lights with explosion-like noises. 

Causes of Exploding Head Syndrome 

Cases of Exploding Head Syndrome have been around since the 1870s. However, there is still no concrete research or clinical studies which can point out the exact cause of this disorder. 

Moreover, researchers have a conflicted opinion on the cause of EHS. On the one hand, some researchers suggest that it is a consequence of severe mental stress and anxiety. On the other hand, others argue that shifting components in the middle ear during the night might cause loud sounds in EHS.

Another hypothesis indicates that EHS occurs due to seizures in the temporal lobe or some nerve dysfunction. 

According to a study, the exploding head syndrome occurs more commonly at the median age of 58 years. However, there are many cases with patients as young as ten years or even older than 80 years too. 

In fact, a recent study claims that around 16% of college students suffer from exploding head syndrome. 

The frequency at which the episodes occur in this disorder also varies significantly from one person to another. Some might experience these episodes numerous times in one night, while it might be a rare occurrence for others. 

As of yet, researchers have not figured out any particular risk factors associated with this disorder either. Still, there is a potential risk factor for exploding head disorder in people with chronic psychological stress and anxiety. 

Even people with a history of other sleeping disorders have a higher chance of developing EHS over time. Furthermore, there are far more cases of EHS in females than males up till now. 

Diagnosis

The exploding head syndrome is commonly diagnosed based on your symptoms and history of episodes. Most doctors refer you to a sleep specialist who asks you some basic questions. For example, they will inquire about the onset of the sounds and the frequency of your episodes.

Make sure to tell them about any medicines you take, sleep problems, or other health conditions during your visit too. Along with this, your sleep doctor will recommend you start a sleep diary to record all your symptoms, the episodes, your diet, and your emotional stress every day for a couple of weeks. 

 Although there are not many tests for sleeping disorders, your doctor may request you to stay overnight in a sleep laboratory. Here, they monitor your sleeping habit using polysomnographic testing. The test evaluates your body function while sleeping and tracks heart rate, breathing rate and rhythm, and your brainwaves.

These studies help to point towards the underlying cause of your symptoms. 

Treatment

Since exploding head syndrome is not well-researched, we do not have any proper medications as of yet. Hence, your doctor creates a treatment plan depending on your age, symptoms, and the frequency of your episodes.

After evaluating the severity of your sleeping disorder, your doctor may prescribe you medications like anticonvulsants and tricyclic antidepressants. These drugs treat the symptoms of your disorders by affecting the neurological activity inside the brain.

Besides this, a few patients benefit from calcium channel blockers too. However, all these medications are given to patients with a severe form of exploding head syndrome, where they experience multiple episodes in a night. 

For mild to moderate diseases, many doctors advise non-medical treatment to patients too. If your episodes are triggered by severe anxiety and stress, it is better to adopt habits that keep you stress-free and relieve your anxiety.

Woman praying in a field.

You can try yoga, meditation, reading, a warm bath before sleeping, counselling, psychotherapy, altering your sleep routine, and or just listening to calming music. 

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Conclusion

While exploding head syndrome might not cause any physical harm, it is quite frightening for the patients. The explosion-like loud sounds and flashing lights jolt you awake from your sleep abruptly and exacerbates anxiety and distress in many.

Since there is no standard treatment for the disorder, it is best to detect the triggering factors of your disorders and try to avoid them. Most commonly, these episodes arise from periods of severe emotional stress and anxiety. 

Try to keep yourself stress-free, practice healthy sleep routines, and meditate to relieve your anxiety. Make sure to contact a doctor if your symptoms do not improve and your episodes start exacerbating.

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