Really, what sounds lovelier than a constant serenade of sound, even when it’s not physically present? For some people, it may not be so lovely, especially when an unending melodic soundtrack is their reality. And while hearing the Vienna Waltz over and over again as one man reported his wife experiencing could be delightful, that isn’t always the case. Another woman who experiences this phenomenon of hearing sounds that aren’t there describes her presentation of the condition differently as she was “absolutely sure I could hear trucks and bulldozers working right outside our bedroom windows,” despite living on a quiet country lane.
Let’s explore the condition of Musical Ear Syndrome, an oftentimes frustrating condition.
These experiences are in fact auditory hallucinations, in which one experiences phantom sensory stimulation in the absence of real sensory stimuli. Of all the sensory hallucinations that humans can experience (sight, smell, taste, visual or feeling), auditory is the most common.
Auditory hallucinations are so common because of the very reason that Musical Ear Syndrome develops. It is a result of hearing loss, where the brain notices a lack of auditory stimulation and reacts by “filling in the blanks,” or providing stimuli where there is none.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. Moreover, it affects the elderly in more substantial percentages. Older folks with hearing loss tend to live quieter lives, in which auditory stimulation is sharply absent. Of course, another contributing factor may be certain types of medications, which are also disproportionately used by the aged.
Common, but underreported
For fear of being deemed mad, Musical Ear Syndrome is a condition that is hugely underreported. One person suffering from Musical Ear Syndrome reports her fear of telling others of her experience, saying “I was afraid I was going nuts. I never said one word to anyone about the strange music I was hearing because I didn’t want them to think I was crazy.” However, it is also a common condition experienced by approximately 10% of those with hearing loss.
It’s almost always directly linked to tinnitus, which is a ringing or buzzing sound heard but not present. This is a more culturally acceptable form of hearing phantom sounds, which is why the number of those afflicted might be more representative. Current data reports that 50 million Americans live with tinnitus.
You’re not “hearing voices”
There’s a quick rule of thumb to rule out psychiatric auditory hallucinations and diagnose Musical Ear Syndrome: psychiatric hallucinations classically present as hearing voices. This means that a clear voice speaks to or about you and can be engaged in conversation. What’s more, the topics or focus of the voice tend to be personally meaningful.
Comparatively, Musical Ear Syndrome sufferers tend to hear music or singing. If a spoken voice is heard, it is usually indistinct and vague.
Sound it out
One way to alleviate the burden of Musical Ear Syndrome is to expose one’s self to increased audio information. If your brain is dead set on providing you auditory sensory, then you might as well give it what it wants. That means turning up the radio or television, or better yet, socializing with others in conversation. This benefit is twofold as it attacks the silence and also gets the afflicted out of their isolating patterns. Reclusion in the elderly and particularly those with hearing loss is a powerful contributor to feelings of depression.
Speak with your doctor about your current medications if you think they might be a contributing factor in your auditory hallucinations. With their guidance, you can begin to eliminate obvious choices and pay attention to whether your Musical Ear Syndrome seems to be less present.
Another and potentially more difficult way to treat Musical Ear Syndrome is by training the brain to ignore the phantom sounds. This could be as old school as wearing a rubber band around your wrist and snapping it when you begin to hear what isn’t there. Immediately turn on the radio or another audio device and concentrate instead on real sounds that are present.
You might also take a new school approach and begin a meditation practice. Though thought of as new school, meditation is actually an ancient art practiced in many cultures for thousands of years. A steady practice results in more focused control of the brain and its thoughts, thereby teaching you strategies for ignoring the mind’s grand productions.