I truly thought a bomb had gone off in the neighbourhood

In our recent article about living with exploding head syndrome, we talked to Niels Nielsen about his experiences with the condition. Despite being relatively unknown, it’s surprisingly common, with 18% of students in one study reporting that they had experienced the phenomenon.

Nielsen describes the feeling as a “sudden crescendo of noise, then a profound and jarring explosion of sound, electrical fizzing and a bright flash”. This description prompted many of you to come forward with your own stories. For some, this was the first time they had come across the condition.

Garry Fowler, for instance, had no idea about the syndrome:

“I have had this happen many times but had no idea of its cause or that it was a recognised syndrome.”

And he wasn’t alone. Mat Porton commented that he only realised it was a recognised condition when he heard it discussed on Radio 4. Jess Dominguez added:

“It’s comforting to know I’m not crazy and that these are real things I’ve experienced.”

For some, like Kimia Mokhtari Aubin, it only happens once a lifetime, but others have been left haunted by the experience after many years. Aza Mohammed reached out to us by email to share a story from his childhood in Iraq. During the Iraq-Iran war, he and his classmates were evacuated from his school because of a bomb scare. That night he was woken up by an explosion and he ran to his parents in tears, only for them to tell him that no bomb had gone off. Even 30 years later he is unable to explain why his ears were still buzzing from the sound long after he woke up.

Several others, like Ivy Deseaux Putnam, also said the noise of exploding head syndrome sounded like gunshots or bombs to them:

“[It] sounds like gunshots in my bedroom, a glass door shattering or a sonic boom above my house.”

Wendy Derbyshire added:

“I truly thought a bomb had gone off in the neighbourhood but realised I was mistaken when I checked outside and there was no disturbance. It really was unbelievably loud.”

Irene McNeil got in touch by email to describe her experiences. She too referred to the noise as a gunshot, but her experience left her with severe pain and numbness that took months to subside. No one else who got in touch reported such a strong physical reaction to the phenomenon. She told us that she still feels numbness in her throat even after 30 years.

A lack of sleep is thought to increase the risk of experiencing exploding head syndrome. The condition is also linked to sleep paralysis and both are thought to share an underlying cause, so many of your experiences, like Zoe Stewart’s, combined the two phenomena:

“I have both. Sleep paralysis always felt like drowning to me, with desperate kicking to reach the surface but never being able to reach air. Exploding head sounds like someone turning the volume up on white noise as loud as it will go and leaves my ears ringing.”

When combined with sleep paralysis the experience can be terrifying. After reading this freaky story shared by Rachael Roseann Blythe we were left in awe of how powerfully the condition physically affects the body:

“I woke unable to move my body and legs. My baby was crying so I dragged myself out of bed and across the hall, I actually thought I would never walk again. I got to her bed and rested for half an hour hoping that whatever was wrong would stop. It didn’t so I pulled myself back to bed. I couldn’t even speak to ask my other half to help. Most terrifying experience ever.”

The combined effect of seeing bright lights, hearing loud noises and being unable to move that comes with sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome have led some to believe that the conditions could explain alien abduction stories. In our article, Nielsen told us; “I can definitely see how they could gravitate towards a supernatural explanation.”

Some of you told us how you cope with the condition now that you’ve learned how to identify it. Emily Rose Matthews says she is able to ”recognise the feeling immediately” having experienced it regularly, and she is able to jolt herself fully awake with a burst of mental effort to avoid the worst effects. Typically this means she sleeps in cycles of sleep paralysis and jolting awake, but she says she will eventually drift to sleep.

The article struck a chord with many of you and it is noticeable how varied the experiences were. Nielsen said the episodes now don’t bother him, but for others it seems that the condition is something they have to live with every day.

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