by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote:
I just discovered references to you on the Internet while I was trying to Google information about what I now know you have coined “Musical Ear Syndrome”.
The MES reference fits me to a “T”, and I am so relieved to find that others experience this, too. I am 47 years old, and I have been hearing music all day long for about a decade. But what I’ve found is that it waxes and wanes depending on my level of anxiety or depression. Its reappearance coincides with increased stress/anxiety/depression.
I have taken Paroxetine three times since 2000. I most recently began taking it again about 12 weeks ago. Prior to that, I had heard music in my head increasingly for about six months. After beginning the Paroxetine, the MES disappeared. However, over the past two weeks it has returned, and I have noticed along with it a slight elevation in my anxiety/depressive symptoms, enough so that I am increasing my dosage.
What I was wondering is whether you have any information about why this seems to be the case with me, is it dangerous (i.e. a precursor to eventual hearing loss or dementia, etc.), should I be checked out for other causes, as I am not elderly, do not live in a totally quiet environment (though I try to keep it that way as much as possible), and am not hard of hearing. Do you think it’s linked to my depression/anxiety issues? Should I be concerned?
You are perceptive. Stress, anxiety and depression are all factors associated with Musical Ear Syndrome.
When I was researching musical ear syndrome, I found 5 things in common in many people, but since then, I’ve heard from numbers of people more or less in your boat—that do not fit the typical MES mold—but nevertheless have the same phantom music.
I’m still trying to figure out why it affects people like you—but I have noticed that anxiety/stress/depression may be a common thread.
I do not believe that it is a precursor to anything such as hearing loss or going crazy. I think it is just the way your body/brain reacts to stress/anxiety/depression.
Let me explain the roles of anxiety and depression in this. When you are anxious, essentially your body is in the “fight or flight” mode—and all your senses are heightened. This means your hearing is more sensitive too—so you hear things you wouldn’t otherwise—and maybe this includes faint phantom sounds rattling around in your auditory system that you were not otherwise aware were there. (This is also why anxious people tend to have hyperacusis—hear normal sounds as too loud—the internal volume control is turned up too high and stays there.)
Now for the role of depression. When you are depressed you normally turn your focus from the external to the internal. Thus, you become more aware of the internal workings of your body and “notice” the phantom sounds. Because you are depressed, you focus on these sounds more and more wondering what is happening to you—and these sounds become more and more intrusive and louder in the process because your limbic (emotional) system is flagging them as important since you are worrying over them. Thus begins the vicious circle.
What you need to do is get your anxiety and depression under control and hopefully these phantom sounds will begin to fade into the background again.
To learn more, read this article about Musical Ear Syndrome, or get the book “Phantom Voices, Ethereal Music & Other Spooky Sounds“.