Exploding Head Syndrome

Among the most terrifyingly named health conditions out there, Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS) ranks right up there along with other doozies like flesh-eating bacteria. It is a sleep problem in which people hallucinate a disturbing noise while going to sleep or waking up.

Despite the awful name, though, EHS is a benign condition that normally does not affect people for too long. And though it is disconcerting, thankfully it does not involve any literal explosions.

In this guide, we’ll go into more detail about EHS including what it is, its effects, causes, and what to do if it happens to you.

What is Exploding Head Syndrome?

Exploding Head Syndrome is a type of condition known as a parasomnia. Parasomnias are unusual or abnormal behaviors that happen during sleep. In EHS, people experience a hallucination of a very loud and alarming sound.

What Are the Symptoms of Exploding Head Syndrome?

EHS is marked by one primary symptom, which, as previously mentioned, is an auditory hallucination. These hallucinations normally last for just a few seconds and can take on many forms. For example, some people with EHS describe hearing sounds like thunderclaps, yelling, explosions (like fireworks or gunshots), or other disturbing noises. It is not always clear to the patient where the sound is coming from. It may appear to be coming from inside their head. It may affect just one ear or both. Regardless, it tends to be distressing and uncomfortable.

Though the auditory aspect is by far the most prevalent, some people may also have secondary sensations as well. These could be visual, such as bright flashing light, or physical, such as a tingling feeling in parts of the body.

In general, EHS is rare. Most people are never affected by this condition, and thankfully, many people who do experience it find that it is not a recurring issue.

What Are the Health Effects of Exploding Head Syndrome?

In general, EHS does not pose a specific health risk besides that it can interfere with a person’s sleep and/or the sleep of a partner if a person becomes agitated in response to a hallucination. EHS can provoke anxiety that may make it difficult to get back to sleep. If this happens with regularity, it can lead to insomnia and have broader health effects like fatigue, daytime sleepiness, cognitive deficits, and mood changes.

What Are the Risk Factors of Exploding Head Syndrome?

The biggest health risks from hypersomnia relate to the effects of excessive daytime sleepiness. For example, people with this issue are much more likely to be in car accidents or to have injuries from things like trips, falls, or other accidents.

Consistent hypersomnia can also affect a person’s ability to effectively work and maintain social relationships. It can disrupt a person’s overall well-being and feelings of health as well as their ability to maintain their personal and occupational commitments.

What Are the Risk Factors of EHS?

There is no clearly identified cause of EHS. Because it is rare and is not a grave condition, there has not been extensive study of EHS. Most research has come from reported cases rather than systematic evaluations.

Through the analysis that has been done, there are some prevailing theories about the causes and risk factors for EHS. For example, EHS may very well be caused by a problem in a part of the brainstem called the reticular formation. Not surprisingly, this part of the brainstem helps regulate sleeping and waking up. If the neurons in this part of the brain go hyperactive when they should actually be shutting down, it may be the explanation for these abnormal and distressing hallucinations.

Some other parasomnias are also considered to be related to neuronal problems in the brainstem. These issues may be co-occurring as EHS has been found to be much more common in people who also have isolated sleep paralysis.

How Is It Treated?

There is no specially identified treatment for EHS. For most patients, it is not a continuing or recurring problem, so there is no need for treatment. And again, because of the limited extensive research on the condition, there is not clear-cut evidence about how to prevent or stop hallucinations from happening in people who have EHS.

Even though there isn’t a single prescribed set of treatments for EHS, there are some general recommendations that are worth implementing for people who have had EHS or want to avoid it:

  • Practice good sleep hygiene: even though sleep hygiene can’t solve a problem in the brain stem, it can help limit any carry-over effects from episodes of EHS. For example, having a sleep environment that makes it easy to get back to sleep can prevent a hallucination from keeping someone up for the rest of the night.
  • Find calming routines: there’s no doubt that EHS can be upsetting and troubling. For this reason, it is useful to have some already identified strategies for remaining calm and reducing anxiety. These can be useful even outside of the context of EHS. Examples could include taking deep breaths, focusing on positive imagery, aromatherapy, or whatever else brings you some level of tranquility.
  • Track your sleep: this is something that you can do with simple pen and paper or with a more advanced sleep tracker that logs and analyzes the data for you. Overall, the goal is to have an idea of how much sleep you’re getting and how deeply you are sleeping. You can also keep notes about how you feel during the day to help identify any trends or patterns in how your sleep affects you when you are awake.
  • See a health professional: if you experience an episode of EHS, it can be useful to bring it up with your doctor. Definitely see your doctor if it happens with any consistency. Your doctor can do a physical exam and health history and can make sure that there are no other health issues that might be affecting your sleep or these symptoms. If you keep a sleep journal or other sleep data, make sure to bring it with you when you visit the doctor so that he or she can review it with you.

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