What is Musical Ear Syndrome and How is it Treated?

You might have musical ear syndrome if you suddenly hear music and you don't know where it's coming from. This is a problem with many different causes. Learn more in this article!
What is Musical Ear Syndrome and How is it Treated?
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 09 October, 2022

Everyone’s experienced ringing in their ears at one point or another. However, it might be musical ear syndrome if the ringing is an actual melody no one else can hear. This is also known as tinnitus and affects far more people than you might think.

For example, approximately 15% of the population suffers from musical ear syndrome in the US alone, according to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA). This percentage is definitely a sign of how important it is to know it in greater depth.

What’s musical ear syndrome?

You already have an idea of what musical hearing syndrome is but we’re going to explain it in more detail, as many people aren’t familiar with it. We’ll base this content on the article “Frequently Seen But Rarely Diagnosed: Musical Ear Syndrome.” This syndrome is known by its acronym: MES.

This condition is a type of disability. However, it isn’t psychiatric, but an auditory one as it concerns music and melodies or music people perceive, a kind of hallucination. The article also mentions that this condition has to do with Charles Bonnet syndrome.
Charles Bonnet syndrome consists of visual hallucinations. People with this disability experience them as a result of irreversible myopia or near-blindness. Well, the musical ear syndrome is similar, only it affects the ear instead of the eye.

A woman listening to music.
Musical ear syndrome isn’t a sensation of listening to melodies for pleasure but a form of tinnitus.

How common is it?

We already mentioned that approximately 15% of the U.S. population experiences musical ear syndrome. However, the numbers are even more alarming according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, they say that about 20 million Americans have to deal with this syndrome regularly.

Also, there are claims that about two million people experience severe forms of musical tinnitus. This means they have to deal with it daily and this affects their lives, social relationships, and the way they function.

Other data presented by the ATA indicates that tinnitus is more frequent in men than in women, as well as among older people and music lovers (or musicians). However, those who work in environments where there’s a lot of noise and those who’ve held military positions also fall into this category.

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Causes of musical ear syndrome

Musical ear syndrome doesn’t arise out of nowhere. This is why there are different identified causes, such as hyperacusis. People who’ve been exposed to high volumes of sound for a long time may experience this problem.

Also, the reason for it affecting older people is hearing loss. As with Charles Bonnet syndrome, hallucinations may appear in an attempt to compensate for the decrease in function when a sense begins to fade.

As the article mentioned above explains, researchers believe the cause of phantom sounds is hypersensitivity in the auditory cortex. It isn’t buzzing or whistling in this case, but melodies and songs. In other words, auditory hallucinations.

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There are different ways to treat musical ear syndrome. One of them is to manage the stress that causes hallucinations due to anxiety about hearing loss. Practicing yoga, meditation, pilates, and physical activity can be of great help.

The use of hearing aids, in cases where they may be helpful, also reduces hallucinations caused by musical ear syndrome. Another way is to add more noise. Playing music at home or having the television on are ways for the ear to stop hallucinating and focus on sounds that are really there.

The last option is the use of drugs prescribed by the doctor. This should be the last approach when nothing else works so that the patient can go on with their lives and not be frustrated.

A spelling ot tinnitus.
Musical ear syndrome is a variety of tinnitus, and physicians treat it as such in the first instance.

Musical ear syndrome is a hallucination

You’ve probably experienced ringing and buzzing in your ears, but perhaps you had no idea that there’s such a thing as auditory hallucinations. Fortunately, it’s possible to treat them thanks to the different options available today.

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? Has anyone close to you?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cakmak, Mirac Aysen, et al. “Frequently Seen But Rarely Diagnosed: Musical Ear Syndrome/Sik Görülen Ancak Nadir Konan Bir Tani: Müzikal Kulak Sendromu.” Noro-Psikyatri Arsivi 53.1 (2016): 91.
  • Fabregat-Rossell, Alexandra, Laia Serra-Tomás, and Cristian Amézaga-Asensio. “Síndrome de Charles Bonnet; a propósito de un caso.” Gaceta Médica de Bilbao 117.3 (2020): 229-232.
  • Bauer, Carol A. “Tinnitus.” New England Journal of Medicine 378.13 (2018): 1224-1231.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.