What Is Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS)?
Exploding head syndrome is a type of sleep disorder that occurs suddenly, either when you are beginning to fall asleep or when you wake up in the middle of the night. This sleep disorder is characterized by hearing a loud noise or crashing sound in your head, which is not real or heard by anyone else. Along with the sound, EHS can also cause the patient to see flashes of light and experience muscle spasms. Unlike the name suggests, these episodes are not painful.
Causes Of Exploding Head Syndrome
Exploding head syndrome is classified as a parasomnia, which is an undesired event that happens while sleeping. These are a specific type of sleep behavior referred to as a disruptive sleep-related disorder. Parasomnias can often be passed down genetically through families.
The exact cause of this sleep problem is not known, although researchers have developed theories. Possible causes of this condition include a brief increase in the activity of your brain’s sensory neurons, damage in your inner ear structures, or abnormal processes in your brain during the sleep-wake transition. Other causes may be due to the beginning of a migraine, or side effects from suddenly stopping anxiety or depression medications, such as SSRIs and benzodiazepines.
Symptoms Of Exploding Head Syndrome
In addition to the loud sounds heard during the episode, exploding head syndrome can cause other symptoms as well. These include feeling frightened or anxious after the episode, experiencing muscle spasms while the episode is occurring, having difficulty falling back to sleep, trouble breathing, rapid heartbeat, or waking up sweating.
These episodes vary in frequency depending on the individual who is experiencing them. Some patients report having several episodes in one night, while others have episodes several nights in a row followed by a lapse in episodes that can last for weeks or months.
Testing For Exploding Head Syndrome
To determine if you are experiencing exploding head syndrome, a sleep specialist will ask you about your episodes to see if they meet the criteria for the condition. According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, a patient must meet these three criteria in order to be diagnosed with exploding head syndrome.
The criteria are that you wake up suddenly to a loud noise or explosion in your head, your experience is intense and you feel frightened after the episode, and you don’t experience any physical pain during or after the episode. The sleep specialist will also ask whether you saw any flashes of light or experienced muscle spasms during the episode.
The sleep specialist may also order certain tests in order to rule out any other sleep conditions. These tests include a polysomnogram, which measures your brain and body activity while you sleep. This test records your brain waves, heart rate, eye movements, and breathing during sleep. Other tests that may be ordered include an MRI and an electroencephalogram (EEG), as these can measure the electrical activity of your brain.
Your doctor will also be able to rule out other possible conditions by obtaining your full medical history and asking questions such as if you or other family members have any known sleep disorders, or if you have a history of headaches or psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Treatment For Exploding Head Syndrome
Exploding head syndrome typically does not require any treatment. The condition is harmless and does not create any feelings of pain in the patient, so it is not dangerous nor is it a sign of another serious condition. Due to this, there are no FDA approved medications made to specifically treat exploding head syndrome.
However, your doctor may still choose to prescribe medication that is used to treat other conditions. Medications that are proven to be helpful for managing exploding head syndrome include the antiseizure medicine topiramate, the heart disease drug nifedipine, the antidepressant amitriptyline and a drug for obsessive-compulsive disorder, clomipramine.
How Gwinnett Sleep Can Help
Gwinnett Sleep offers services that can help diagnose any factors that may be causing exploding head syndrome. We provide consultations, conduct sleep studies (known as polysomnography), and offer a variety of tests as well as a CPAP clinic. If you suspect that you may have exploding head syndrome, you should get tested as soon as possible so you can determine if treatment is necessary. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.