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After I had my stroke, at times I would hear voices, and there was not one person nearby. No one. The voices went away in a few months or so,  but occasionally, I still hear music–melodies or rhythm–since that fateful day, April 8, 2009. Days will go by, months even, and then, all of a sudden, usually at night, I’ll hear a song when nothing or nobody is there playing it. 

One time, in particular, I listened to the beating of a drum and, after days went by, I could stand it no longer. The building manager came to my apartment and, with an earnest face, said, “I hear nothing.”

Days went by and I called the manager again when I heard the drum beats louder. The manager came, sat down on a chair, and waited for 5 minutes, both of us in eerie silence. 

“There’s no sound. Nothing.” I apologized extensively for disturbing him, and the drum continued for a few hours more.

Sometimes called “Musical Ear Syndrome” (or “Auditory Hallucinations”), MES (which I have) was studied in 3 people by Sri Lanka researchers. Comparison of the characteristics of the three patients is as follows:

Case 1 Case 2 Case 3

Demographic Features 78-year-old widow 29-year-old female garment factory worker 86-year-old devoted Buddhist female

Songs of Hallucinations One song she first heard and liked as a young girl 50 years ago 3-4 current songs with no special preference chanting “pirith” (a form of religious sermon)

Accompanying music Accompanying music present Accompanying music present No accompanying music

Amplitude Initially low amplitude but became louder with time causing distress High amplitude to a level of distress Slow, rhythmic chanting of the same amplitude.

Memories associated Pleasant memories of the past No associated memories No associated past memories

Associated Emotions Enjoyed the hallucination Was distressed with the hallucinations Pleasant emotions were evoked as a result of voices

Diagnosis Auditory Charles Bonnet Syndrome* Organic Psychotic disorder Very late onset schizophrenia

Treatments Hearing aids Anti

depressant/anxiety medication

Anti-depressant/anxiety medication

Response to treatments Hallucinations completely resolved with treatment. Symptoms improved with treatments. Significant improvement of symptoms and the patient regretted the disappearance of auditory hallucinations

* Charles Bonnet syndrome refers to the visual and auditory hallucinations caused by the brain’s adjustment to significant vision or hearing loss. It occurs most often among the elderly who are more likely than any other age group to have eye or ear conditions that affect sight or hearing, such as age-related macular degeneration.


MES affects around 5% of the population worldwide. You may hear a song or rhythmic beat, with or without music, and only realize later that it was, unfortunately, all “in your head.”

The condition of MES can be scary at first. You might think you are hearing things, hallucinating, or, worse yet, going bonkers. Some people may experience it as a melody played on a single instrument or many, like your favorite song, the sound of someone practicing scales, or rhythmic beats.

We’ve all had a tune stuck in our head that we can’t stop hearing for a few days. What makes MES different is that the music will sound like it’s coming from a specific direction rather than playing in your head. It may take some time before you realize that the sounds are in your head and nowhere else.

Many researchers believe when you have hearing loss, certain sounds are no longer sustained, but the brain is still ready to receive sound signals in these frequencies. A study using EEG scanning discovered that when someone experienced MES, they had brain activation in their auditory centers, as well as in the areas of the brain associated with both music and language production, as if they were actually hearing music. Basically, your brain experiences auditory loss and starts producing its own sound.

There’s no cure for MES because once the cells in your ears are no longer working properly, there’s no way to cure it. However, here are a two things you can do to manage MES: 

  • Wearing hearing aids will give your brain something else to listen to rather than diminished or complete silence.
  • When you feel stressed about what you’re hearing, it can disrupt sleep, make it more difficult to concentrate or have a conversation. Deep breathing exercises–inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth–have been shown to be effective.

MES can be very annoying and I, for one, have not gotten used to it–ever so far.

Joyce Hoffman

Joyce Hoffman

Joyce Hoffman is one of the world's top 10 stroke bloggers according to the Medical News Today. You can find the original post and other blogs Joyce wrote in Tales of a Stroke Survivor. (https://talesofastrokesurvivor.blog)
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