Have you ever heard about musical ear or what causes it? Learn more in this week’s Audicus blog!
Do you sometimes hear music, even when there isn’t any playing? This may be a result of Musical Ear Syndrome, a phenomenon in which your brain is activated in regions responsible for processing sound, all without the presence of external stimuli.
Musical Ear: A Result of Hearing Loss
Musical Ear Syndrome normally affects senior citizens with hearing loss, although the condition can affect people of varying ages who may or may not have hearing loss. Musical ear affects about 1 in 10,000 people over the age of 65. People can be expected to hear a wide range of sounds with musical ear, from faint noises to musical symphonies.
In one extremely rare case of musical ear, Cath Gamester, a resident of Liverpool, England, heard as many as six songs during her musical ear experiences! Musical ear can have a wide range of frequencies, but in Gamester’s case the episodes were continuous. The condition may have even affected early musicians from the 19th century. Robert Schumann, a German composer from the 1800’s, also experienced sounds of music without any actual melodies.
Not a Mental Illness
Although a lot remains unknown about musical ear, what is known is that the condition doesn’t reflect the mental health of the person affected. Musical ear is completely different from schizophrenia, an actual mental illness that is documented in the National Institute of Mental Health. A similar condition to musical ear is tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ear that is caused by hyperactivity of the brain rather than direct external stimuli.
The McGurk Effect
The idea of the human brain confusing or misconstruing our senses is not unheard of. The McGurk Effect is a phenomenon that shows what we see can actually influence what we hear! For example, the sound of a person repeating a syllable over and over again can sound different to us depending on what we see. The syllable that you hear will be more similar to the syllable that is mouthed noiselessly from a person in your focus of vision, rather than an out-of-sight person who is actually saying a syllable out loud.
In rare cases people who have experienced brain changes after epilepsy-induced seizures or aneurysms may experience musical ear. Recreational drugs such as LSD, alcohol and marijuana can cause musical ear-type symptoms in some circumstances. Medicinal drugs also carry a risk of triggering musical ear, so be sure to check with your doctor about the side effects of any medications you choose to take.
The Best Solution is Prevention
A good way to lower your chances of experiencing musical ear, tinnitus and other conditions related to hearing loss would be to avoid exposure to loud noises over extended periods of time. Take short, quiet breaks when attending loud venues like music concerts and be sure to use discretion when using ear buds, as these are also related to hearing loss. There is no official cure for Musical Ear Syndrome, meaning one of the best ways to avoid this condition is prevention.