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What Is Exploding Head Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2014
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Exploding head syndrome is an unusual and fairly rare condition that is often described as a parasomnia. A parasomnia is any occurrence which disrupts sleep, and can include things like sleep walking, myoclonic jerks, or night terrors. Though some cases of this condition have been described when a person is awake, most often this unusual circumstance occurs just as people are drifting off to sleep. What then follows is a loud bang, crash, ring or explosion noise, which seems to occur in the head, and which usually results in total wakefulness, potentially upset, and some panic.

Most people who have exploding head syndrome are not experiencing pain when they hear the loud noise. Some have described seeing flashes of light with the explosion, and as mentioned, a few have experienced these symptoms during the day. Even though this parasomnia is relatively rare the medical community does have some information regarding it.

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First, predicting rate at which “explosions” occur is not easy. Some people have them frequently, up to a few times a week, and others will experience them less than once a month. The syndrome may also disappear for long period of time or forever without treatment. Medical researchers also suggest that women are more than twice as likely than men to get exploding head syndrome, and that average age of onset is in the late 50s. No firm connection is established between conditions like migraines and exploding head syndrome, though a few people who have reported the syndrome have both.

There is some dispute on how to treat exploding head syndrome. If the condition isn’t disrupting sleep or creating significant alarm for the affected person, no treatment may be required. Those who are interested in having symptoms disappear quickly might find help with the drug clomipramine. This medication is an anti-depressant of the tricyclic class that is used to treat a variety of disorders, including nighttime enuresis, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some studies suggest clomipramine may prove successful in ending symptoms.

Though research on this syndrome has thus far pointed to it being bothersome but benign, it’s still recommend that anyone suspecting exploding head syndrome pay a visit to the doctor. Doctors may recommend a sleep study or visit to a neurologist for more specialized care and to give patients best access to advice and treatment. Diagnosis should particularly be confirmed if symptoms are atypical, since this might point to other conditions instead.

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my2poodles
Post 5

I experienced two episodes of exploding head several years ago when drifting off to sleep. Yesterday I experienced this during the day. I was in the back yard and thought the house had exploded. Scared me to death. Should I be concerned because it happened during the day?

momothree
Post 3

@christym: Once it was determined that she was suffering from exploding head syndrome, they looked to find out the cause. One of the things that her doctor said was that extreme stress can cause it. She started a yoga class and absolutely loves it. She also takes a hot bath every night before bed to help her to relax.

They also put her on clomipramine. She says that the combination of the yoga, medication, and relaxation has helped her tremendously.

christym
Post 2

@momothree: What did they do for your sister? Is she on medication now?

momothree
Post 1

About two years ago, my sister gave us quite a scare. Honestly, we thought she was having some kind of psychotic breakdown. She complained of hearing loud, crashing sounds or sounds of an explosion as she was falling asleep. She said that she would see flashes of light and would wake up screaming. We thought she might be having nightmares.

After several weeks of this, she finally went to see a psychiatrist because she thought she was, in her words, “going crazy”. A sleep study was done and it was determined that she had exploding head syndrome. The doctor said that it was a sleep disorder classified as parasomnias. She is doing much better now.

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