Posted by: kaleidophonic | May 21, 2014

Head Noises?


Not too long ago I came across this advertisement in an old newspaper. The caption, “Stop worrying about your head noises and get help” initially made me think it was about schizophrenia, but, no, it was an advertisement for a hearing specialist!




The ad made me wonder: before the age of hearing technologies and medical understanding of the functions of the parts of the ear, how did people who experienced tinnitus (buzzing or ringing of the ear) understand the phenomenon? Did people think that it was their brains that were buzzing? Did they think something had penetrated their heads and they were hearing a foreign object or spirit making noise within their skulls? (I once had a bug fly into my ear canal, get stuck, and buzz in a panic for what seemed like hours. It was VERY distressing!!!). Before modern medical science was widely developed and practiced, would hearing problems such as buzzing, crackling, ringing or humming be diagnosed as mental illness? And conversely, would mental illnesses such as those where people hear voices or noises that others don’t, be diagnosed as problems of the ear rather than the brain?

I confess that I just don’t know, but the question itself is interesting, especially since more and more I seem to be finding connections between sound studies and disability studies.

Food for thought…




  1. Related to this is a phenomenon known as exploding head syndrome:
    I have experienced this a couple of times in my life – it’s pretty cool.

    • Wow, that’s fascinating! I think I may have experienced a variety of this: i often get woken up in the middle of the night convinced that someone has just rung my doorbell. But of course, its the middle of the night, and there’s no one there. Once or twice I got up to check the door, but in the last few years I’ve come to understand that its not a real sound. Whenever it happens I wake with a start, my heart pounding.

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