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Songs in the Ears May Warn of Danger

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Q. My elderly mother hears actual songs in her ears. They keep her awake at night, which annoys her.

I read in the newspaper about someone who had this problem. There was a name for it but I can't remember it.

This is the second time in two years she's had this trouble. The first time it went away on its own after three months.

A. Your mother ought to be evaluated by a neurologist. The sudden onset of an auditory hallucination could be a sign of something serious, such as Parkinson's disease or a tumor.

One reader wrote: "I was healthy and active at the age of 60. For several weeks I heard music in my head and ignored it. Then I had a brain stem stroke."

Some medications can cause this symptom. Another person reported hearing a wonderful male chorus each evening after she started taking imipramine. As soon as she stopped the drug, the music disappeared.

There are more stories about auditory hallucinations as an adverse reaction to medications at www.peoplespharmacy.com

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13 Comments

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I suffered from auditory hallucinations for 23 years. I am 73. I have a severe hearing loss and the Dr. said I had tinnitus. Finally it evolved to a feeling of shock going up my head and drove me crazy. Went to a neurologist, had a MRI and EEG and I have a slight case of Epilepsy. I take 100 mg 3 times a day of Gabapentin and it has solved the problem. I feel so at peace and no noise.

My mother heard voices for about two years before the onset of Alzheimer's.

Several years ago (I'm 70 now) I started to hear what I thought was music from a radio -- it was very soft at first, fading in and out, and since I was then in a cubbyhole office setting, I thought some thoughtless co-worker was listening to music somewhere off in the distance. Within a few days of intermittent episodes it started to get fairly loud -- it was centered between my ears and was reasonably high fidelity.

The strange part is that the music was classic, big band Frank Sinatra/Count Basie belt-it-out brassy music, with the Sinatra/Tony Bennet lead singer loud and clear, with a lot of blaring trumpets in the background and such. There were a few slower tunes, but no melodic ballads. The odd part, I found as I listened to more and more of it, was that I could never understand the lyrics -- whatever the singer sang, I simply couldn't make out the words -- perhaps they weren't even English, although I never picked up on any sort of foreign words or accent.

The other odd part is that the tunes were totally unknown to me--although I'm pretty musically astute, I had never heard these songs before. They were typical big band, up-tempo musical stylings, but I could never predict how they would proceed, but usually finished with a long, extended final note. It got to the point where I was pretty distracted by this situation and I mentioned it to my doctor who said he had "heard" (no pun intended) of these things but couldn't explain them.

After a few weeks they faded slowly out and I haven't "heard" from them since! I suspect these are a mental/brain hallucination rather than something to do within the physical ear. But they were definitely something I felt like I was actually hearing, rather than merely a thought process like imagining a famous crooner singing a hit song. If they were associated with a stroke or tumor, I've shown no further signs.

On the other hand, auditory hallucinations can be benign. For more information see the book 'Hallucinations' By Oliver Sacks.

My mother had this experience as well. It was always triggered by a urinary tract infection (UTI.)

An "auditory hallucination" can sometimes be one's brain "making sense" out of a white noise in the environment. I wondered there for awhile if I was hearing the music of the spheres, but eventually noticed that the trigger seemed to be the noise coming from a (very noisy) microwave oven. It quit a few months later, and we replaced the oven...since then, no sounds of a male chorus singing Abide with Me...

Question,
Is the music being heard externally or internally? This makes a difference.
Yoly from NM

I was surprised to read this post because it sounds similar to 'ear worms' which are very common in normal life. A quick wikipedia search says, "According to research by James Kellaris, 98% of individuals experience earworms." But it also points out these must be distinguished from Palinacousis. Is this post about palinacousis and how would readers know whether to be concerned or could they are just experiencing common ear worms.

I have a variety of "hearing events" in my ears, which I attribute to tinnitus. Altho' I don't recall ever hearing a song with words, I have had a sound that suggests a male chorus warming up vocally.

Your article might have added comments about tinnitus altho' I appreciate the alert you offered about something more serious. Thank you.

The ear noises are called Tinnitus (I've had them for 15 years). Tinnitus is a common side effects of several drugs.

When I get very very tired at night I sometimes hear symphony music. At first it scared me. Then my husband said to me to just relax and go with it. Now I just let it put me to sleep. It does not happen often but when it does, I enjoy it. By the way I have heard of this happening to others as well.

Big deal. I've got music playing in my head all the time. I have as long as I can remember. Led Zepplin is playing right now!

I am a musician and I have heard music all my life-not a hallucinatory level, but much as I hear speech in my head. This is one way I learn and remember music-alot of it!

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