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  • Elaine Way

A Life In Harmony: Musical Ear Syndrome

If you are experiencing Musical Ear Syndrome, you might actually be seeking a life with a little less harmony! Here we offer a look into the condition of Musical Ear and how Clinical Hypnotherapy and Solution Focused Therapy can help.

Many of us have experienced ‘ear worms - that is music or songs that we can’t get out of our head. Music is, after all, described as a soundtrack to our lives.

However, for some people this music can become a bit of an issue. They may find themselves living with a constant serenade of sound, even when it’s not physically present. It can be both irritating and frustrating when there is an unending melodic soundtrack in your head, and while you may be a fan of rock music or a Viennese waltz, you may not want to be hearing it 24/7 or when you are trying to sleep.

We’ve probably all heard of tinnitus, but musical ear is a slightly different condition and it doesn’t always take the form of music: people report hearing rumbling, banging and voices talking lowly in the next room. Tinnitus can have a physical cause, such as damage to the ear, whereas Musical Ear can be seen as more of a hallucination. It is comparable to Charles Bonnet syndrome (visual hallucinations in visually impaired people) and some have suggested this phenomenon could be included under this diagnosis.

Musical Ear can therefore be described as the experience of hearing music when none is being played. It can take the form of songs or music you know or your mind can even make up it’s own compositions. Hearing sound that no-one else can hear is quite common, but the experience is normally of a simple sound such as a buzzing, ringing, or sizzling and this is known as tinnitus. In a small number of people however, these experiences can be much more complex and emotive, and full music can be heard.

Who gets Musical Ear?

Although anyone can experience Musical Ear, it is more common in women than in men, as well as in those over 60 years of age. Individuals who live alone and those with hearing loss are also more likely to experience it. People who already experience tinnitus may be more likely to develop Musical Ear.

Like tinnitus, a number of medications have been accused of causing or contributing to MH. These associations are not thought to be common (although they are a recognised side effect of some medicines – speak with your doctor!) and in most individuals who experience Musical Ear, the symptoms are not due to medication. A quick search on the internet will reveal that medications based on opium, such as tramadol, morphine sulphate and oxycodone, have been shown to cause MH in a number of cases.

If you believe that your Musical Ear might be caused by one of these or another medication, it is important that you do not stop taking it or adjust the dosage without first discussing this with your general practitioner or the doctor who prescribed the medication.

Auditory hallucinations

Auditory hallucinations are common because of the very reason that Musical Ear Syndrome develops. It tends to be a result of hearing loss, where the brain notices a lack of auditory stimulation from the deafness and reacts by “filling in the blanks,” or providing stimuli where there is none. Neurons (brain cells) are busy little things and therefore try to carry on with their job of providing sounds. The "hole" in the hearing range is "plugged" by the brain confabulating a piece of auditory information

Common, but underreported

Possibly from fear of being deemed ‘insane’ (this was quoted by a number of our clients), Musical Ear Syndrome is likely a condition that is hugely underreported. However, it is important to remember that 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.

You’re not “hearing voices”

If you are hearing sounds that aren’t there, the first port of call is your GP. You may be unaware of hearing loss and there may even be a physical (but rare) reason why you are experiencing sounds. 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.

Can musical hallucination be treated?

If Musical Ear has an underlying cause, addressing the cause can often also relieve it. The most common and easily treatable cause is hearing loss, so your doctor is likely to request that you undergo some tests of your hearing and, based on the results of this, may prescribe a hearing aid. It may be that current medications can be changed with the guidance of your doctor.

Many people find that MH becomes less intrusive once the condition has been explained to them and they have been reassured that there is no serious underlying cause.

One of my past clients reported a situation where one medical specialist believed it to be the result of medication, whereas their other two specialists believed it to be the result of panic and anxiety issues. Interestingly, when their level of anxiety reduced through therapy, the Musical Ear was much less noticeable and no longer disturbed their sleep.

Can musical hallucination be treated?

Using Sound

While taking steps to address the Musical Ear symptom, one common way to alleviate the burden of Musical Ear Syndrome is to expose the brain 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 might mean 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. Older age can be a factor of Musical Ear and this may also be because the quieter and less busy surroundings are making the noise more noticeable.

The use of Solution Focused Clinical Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is already a widely used tool for issues such as tinnitus. At the Studio we have significant experience of using our combination of Solution Focused Therapy and Clinical Hypnotherapy for both tinnitus and Musical Ear.

As with most types of intervention, there is no guarantee that it will be successful for everyone, due to each person’s condition being unique – however our results have been overwhelmingly positive. Even if the noise is not completely removed, quite often a client reports that it has faded significantly and is barely noticeable, allowing them to concentrate on sleep and other things they may be doing. The aim is to get you coping better with life and focusing less on the noise, hopefully to the point where the noise is completely excluded.

As with all clients who come to see us, we set down the foundations of understanding the science behind the brain. Using SFBT we start to alter thought and behaviour patterns and perceptions, by moving the focus away from the ‘problem’ or sound, and focusing on the solutions and what works. We get the client focusing on when the issue is not a problem and discovering what is different. We have a saying at the studio of ‘whatever we focus on, we amplify’ and this can absolutely be applied in the case of Musical Ear.

Quite often what we are treating is anxiety and we are therefore reducing the general anxiety a person may be experiencing plus the anxiety or frustration created by the sound. Our findings are that when a person reduces their anxiety and creates more belief within themselves and a more positive way of thinking and coping, the music is not so noticeable anymore. It is about shifting the focus away from the problem sound and towards other things around us. Comparable to tinnitus, where physical damage may have created an irritating and constant sound, they key is in teaching the brain to not focus on the sound.

Clinical Hypnosis can also work with thought and behaviour patterns, encouraging the subconscious to ignore the sound, taking any auditory hallucination as a sign to shift the focus away very quickly towards other things. However, the deep state of relaxation also seems to counteract the noise and a steady practice of self-hypnosis techniques can result in more focused control of the brain and its thoughts, allowing you to ignore the mind’s grand productions and in most cases, sleep well. Often clients report insomnia created by the noises and, as we know, when we are missing sleep, we feel less able to cope and focus positively – it becomes a vicious circle. Thankfully, whatever the outcome, all clients have reported that their sleep improved as a result of the self-hypnosis.

If you are experiencing Musical Ear, the first port of call will be with your doctor, but please be reassured that there are a number of steps that can be tried in an attempt to help you with the issue.

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