man covering his ears

Q. I read in your column a while back that a person heard music after taking the antidepressant amitriptyline. My urologist prescribed a similar drug (imipramine) for a mild urinary problem. After a few days, I too started hearing music. My music was a wonderful male chorus each evening. After I pinned the music down to that antidepressant drug I quit taking it. I did miss that wonderful male chorus, though!

A. Drug-induced auditory hallucinations are rare but documented in the medical literature. The person you refer to taking amitriptyline reported: “I hear music all day, both classical and rap.” When the drug was discontinued the music faded away.

One person taking an antidepressant heard a full orchestra playing dramatic classical music:

“The final straw came when I was riding my motorcycle (not a quiet machine) and couldn’t hear the sound of the engine and wind over the orchestra playing in my head! I took myself off the antidepressant, and the hallucinations disappeared.”

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  1. Frank

    I have a hearing loss and tinnitus. I was prescribed amitriptyline for migraines. I started to hear music. Each day, it would be the same thing over and over, then the next day, something new, but also over and over. Some days it sounded like modern atonal music, other days like soft rock, symphony, asian, chorus, film scores and so on. However, I never recognized any of the music. The music was getting louder everyday, so we discontinued the medication. The volume of the music decreased but it’s still with me. A bit more variety and now the passages are longer and sometimes based on music I have really heard. It’s not usually unpleasant, but I wish there was an “off” button. However, I’ve wondered if it makes the tinnitus bearable as, although that is also always there, it doesn’t really get to me.

  2. DP

    When I was up to about 30mg I suddenly had ‘God Save the Queen’ playing in my head, it was a bit like a salvation army band, with a muffled drumbeat corresponding to my heartbeat. This was quite short lived and interesting; and I had a couple of other interesting ones. So realistic and I’m not musical. And it wasn’t from songs I’d been listening to.

    I went up to 40mg and within a couple of hours, Silent Night started playing with a swing. I settled down, thinking that I would fall asleep in a bit. That was at 11pm last night, it kept repeating and repeating about every minute through 1pm, 2pm, etc. I finally fell asleep around 6 in the morning. Got up at 9 and it started again and has been going all day!

    I’ll of course check with my doctor later – but it was reassuring to see this post! I have another med on top, and I hope it will at least change the tune!

    “I hear music and there’s no-one there!”

  3. Deb

    This link between antidepressants and auditory hallucinations, including music needs to be studied and publicized more. After, I believe, generic antidepressants caused my mother’s relapse brand was restarted then increased. Then musical hallucinations started causing her much distress. Right before the hallucinations started her depression seemed to magically lift. That lasted only a couple of days until the music left her unable to sleep and exhausted.

    When the antidepressant was stopped the music disappeared. But deep depression returned. Then another increase in a 2nd was tried. when it reached double the original dose, the same pattern happened. Is any researcher collecting data on this? This connection has to give some clues on how to help elderly overcome depression. Maybe there has to be an antidepressant less potent for the elderly.

  4. Glenn E.

    This is awfully late for this thread, but years ago I heard “Faint music” seemingly from the condo above me no one was there. It stopped, and I forgot about it. I was taking Imipramine. I did complain to the condo management about it!
    Very recently, my Dr. Added, Mirtazapine to the Wellbutrin and Effor I been on for a year or more. Two night ago I played two songs by The Clash, an old band, and 2 obscure songs. I had my headphones on for at least most of the time. An hour later I heard the first song I played coming softly from upstairs, and a while later the second. On “endless loops” it seemed. Too faint to be bothersome. I thought someone upstairs wanted to meet me! LOL. But no one is living there. Yesterday, I was singing a song I liked in college. Most in my car but a little in my condo. Hours later lying in bed it started playing softly. BUT THEN I saw the light. I put fingers firmly in each ear, tried not to move them to not make noise, as you’ve probably guessed, I heard the same song, playing softly. This drug has produced, not annoying (yet), a tape recorder type of audio hallucinations in my brain.
    The web is great, I will talk to my doctor tomorrow, but it sounds rare enough do that HE might not of heard of it.

  5. Darn Yankee

    I, too, have musical hallucinations 24/7 since February. I hear what sounds like Monks chanting, and sometimes America The Beautiful, but don’t think there are any words. I have been on Sertraline (generic form of Zoloft) for about a year and a half because my husband has Alzheimer’s, and that is very stressful. The doctor just says it is Tinnitis, but offers no help.
    I wear hearing aids but the sound/volume does not change whether they are in or out. The chanting is pretty, always with me, but tiring. I wake up with a buzzing noise and then that goes into the chanting. Any clues???

  6. cw

    I experienced music from the 70’s playing in my head after starting Paxil, but it only lasted for a few days.

  7. K.O.

    I am so happy to read this! I thought I was just nuts because I frequently hear, albeit lovely, a Gregorian chant at bedtime. Initially, I blamed it on my neighbors but I soon discovered that even with my fingers stuck in my ears I still hear it. I tried listening to music via ear-phones but that didn’t work. I find that it’s the loudest and most bothersome when I am overly-tired or if I have consumed too much sugar and caffeine during the day.

  8. PMC

    I have been experiencing musical hallucinations intermittently over a number of years. I am a well educated, intelligent middle age woman and am a clinical social worker. Initially I thought that these musical hallucinations were caused by prolonged stress in my professional life, as they would tend to disappear when the stress let up.
    However, lately I have noticed that they seem to occur with episodes of tinnitis, that irritating but common hissing in the ear. I have consulted with several doctors, had a battery of tests and have been told there were no abnormalities in my brain.
    I recently read that these musical hallucinations may be a form of tinnitis but I have not found anything more on it.
    I have taken amitrptyline in the past for pain management (fibromyalgia) and recently started it again for same. I have heard Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and Paul MC Cartney in that ipod in my brain, as well as America the Beautiful and many Christmas songs. Even as I write this, I can hear what sounds like a men’s chorus chanting Oh God with a drumroll.
    It is driving me crazy as you can imagine. I don’t find putting anything on in the background such as other music helps. Even though it is a great relief to be reading this column and seeing the exact same things with others, I find it embarrassing to talk about with most people. I hope my posting will also help others find they are not alone!

  9. DR

    I am currently reading a very interesting book on this subject, Musicophilia – tales of music & the brain – by Oliver Sachs. Highly recommended if anyone is seeking further information…

  10. W.J.

    I read your article “Medicine triggers musical phantoms” and I too have a vocalist that has taken over my left ear 24 hours 7 days. My doctor said it is Tinnitus and he tried a anti-biotic but I had no infection. The recording sounds like a tenor or classical type opera singer with high and low pitches that are not distinguishable or clear enough.
    It started about three weeks ago and now I have to stuff my left ear with cotton gauze to keep the sound as low as possible. It is more active when I finish eating. I sleep on my left ear and it stays quiet during the night when I get about six hours sleep. I am taking Norvasc l 5mg replaced by the generic Amlodipine one a day, plus Cumendin generic Warfarin 2.5 mg. My question is, “Since these medications are not listed in your column can they be the cause of the Tinnitus as I have been taking them since 2003.”

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