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Q: popping sound in head ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: popping sound in head
Category: Health > Conditions and Diseases
Asked by: tjcbs-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 28 Aug 2003 03:04 PDT
Expires: 27 Sep 2003 03:04 PDT
Question ID: 249563
I am 26 now, and ever since I was 17 I have been plagued by popping
in my head. I have seen several doctors, a neurologist, and a
cardiovascular specialist, and all have been mystified. Furthermore,
my own searching has been fruitless. Despite this, I refuse to believe
that this phenomenon is unique to me.

Some characteristics:

The sound very clearly eminates from various regions of my brain, not
my inner ear or any other part of my body.

The sound can occur at any time, but more frequently a few minutes
after I wake up in the middle of the night. At night they are also
accompanied by a hissing sound which seems to come from my neck.

The sounds are not infrequent. I have experienced at least a few
thousand of these poppings in my life.

It can occur singly or in clusters up to around ten over a period of
several minutes.
The volume of the sound can range from almost inaudible to startlingly

Subjectively I get the feeling that a blood vessel in the region of
this sound is dilating. This can of course be a meaningless
association I have made.

I would like documentation on this symptom and its possible causes.

Request for Question Clarification by tutuzdad-ga on 28 Aug 2003 09:49 PDT
Have you seen a dental specialist and ruled out Temporomandibular
Joint Syndrome (TMJ)? This often is a result of bruxing or grinding of
the teeth, particularly, but not exclusviely in the night (which might
very well explain the night "popping" you are hearing). The "hissing"
might be caused by pressure being released into or from the inner ear
as the jaw shifts into or out of place. Some people report that shen
the jaw shifts back into position they sometimes experience a popping
sound in their heads and some physicians can misdiagnose this as an
innner ear malady.

We cannot diagnose you here of course and have no way of knowing
straight away what your medical condition might be since we aren't
doctors. But let me know if you'd like to know more about TMJ as a
potential answer and I'd be happy to help you.


Clarification of Question by tjcbs-ga on 28 Aug 2003 11:22 PDT
Although I have not seen a dentist about TMJ, it does not seem like a
likely cause, as I go to a dentist regularly, and he has never noticed
any wear on my molars. Also, I am quite certain the sound originates
from the brain, not the inner ear, the joint of my jaw, or any other
I am not necessarily looking for a diagnosis. I am looking for
information on conditions which are known to cause popping sounds
coming from the brain as I described.

Request for Question Clarification by jbf777-ga on 29 Aug 2003 09:53 PDT
Could it be a possible variant of schizophrenia?  I.e., instead of
voices, they're popping noises?
Subject: Re: popping sound in head
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 29 Aug 2003 15:01 PDT
Hello, and thanks for a challenging and fascinating question.  I hope
the information here will be of use to you in continuing your
conversations with your medical professionals.

There are many clinical and informal reports of people experiencing
popping noises in their head.  By far, the great majority of these
cases involve either: (1) pressure differences in the ear (the
familiar "popping" that occurs when you ride in a fast elevator, for
instance), (2) TMJ-related noises stemming from the jaw (or sometimes,
the neck), or (3) tinnitus.   From what you have described, I gather
these conditions are not of interest to you, and I have not summarized
them here.  However, if you would like additional information on one
or more of these categories, please let me know, and I'll be happy to
add to the information I've provided below.

In the absence of noises related to TMJ, ear-pressure, and tinnitus, I
have found two other conditions associated with popping noises in the
head.  They are not common, but nor are they so rare as to border on
the hypothetical.   The two conditions are:  (1) Noises related to
exposure to electromagnetic radiation, and (2) noises as a result of
perilymphatic fistula -- a leaking of fluid in the ear.


Exposure to certain types of electromagnetic radiation, such as
microwaves or radiofrequencies, have been associated with hearing
various types of noises, including buzzing, clicking, hissing and
popping noises, and is believed to be conneced to actual expansion of
the brain tissue as a result of exposure to such energy.


An Australian report on electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from the
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
summarized the auditory effects of radiofrequency (RF) exposure in
some people:.

CSIRO - June 1994

People with normal hearing are able to perceive pulse-modulated RF and
microwave radiation between about 200 MHz and 6.5 GHz. The sound
perception probably results from the thermoelastic expansion of brain
tissue caused by a small but rapid increase in temperature. The
perception threshold for pulses shorter than 30 žs depends on the
specific energy density in the head and has been estimated to be as
low as 30 mJ/kg.


Auditory perception

It is well established that humans with normal hearing are able to
perceive pulse-modulated RF and microwave radiation as buzzing,
clicking, hissing, or popping noise, depending on the modulation
characteristics (NCRP 1986). First reports (Frey 1961, 1962, 1963) of
this phenomenon described the perception of pulsed radiation
frequencies between 216 MHz and 2.98 GHz. Pulse widths varied between
1 and 1000 žs and the average threshold power density was 4 W/m2.
Sensitivity was increased by lowering the ambient audible noise
levels. Since then the average power density threshold for RF hearing
has been reported as low as 0.01 W/m2 in people with normal hearing
(Cain & Rissman 1978). Perception of different pulse-modulated
frequencies has been reported (Constant 1967) at 3 and 6.5 GHz but not
at 9 GHz.

In a study of the threshold conditions for this effect in one human
subject exposed to pulsed 2.45 GHz radiation (Guy et al 1975) it was
determined that, for pulse widths less than 30 žs, the perception
threshold depended on the energy density per pulse. A threshold value
of 280 mJ/m2 (estimated 10 mJ/kg) was measured when the subject wore
earplugs. An animal study measured brain stem auditory evoked
potentials in guinea-pigs exposed to pulsed 918 MHz radiation (Chou &
Guy 1979) and concluded that the threshold for microwave hearing is
related to the incident energy density per pulse for pulses shorter
than 30 žs and is related to the peak power for longer pulses (up to
500 žs).

It is generally agreed (NCRP 1986; Foster & Finch 1974) that the
mechanism of acoustic perception of short pulses of RF and microwave
radiation is due to thermoelastic expansion of brain tissue following
a small but rapid temperature increase (<10-5&#778;C). As the effect
must depend on absorption of some incident energy it would be limited
to frequencies which penetrate the skull and are significantly
absorbed by brain tissue. The effect of the expansion is an acoustic
pressure wave which is transmitted through the skull to the cochlea
where vibration-sensitive hair cell receptors respond as they would to
acoustically generated pressure stimuli. It has been calculated that
the frequency of the induced sound is related to head size and the
acoustic properties of brain tissue, regardless of the RF frequency
(Lin 1977).


A report from the Federal Communications Commission in the US
describes two effects of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) waves -- a
"calcium efflux" effect directly involving brain tissue, and the
"hearing effect" of RF:

One of the "non-thermal" biological effects that appears to be
reproducible is the "calcium efflux" effect. This effect can be
described as the observation that the release of calcium ions from
animal brain tissue is enhanced after exposure to certain low
intensities of RF radiation under discrete conditions of frequency and
signal modulation. This effect has been observed at RF levels well
below those necessary to produce heating of tissue . The
extent to which this effect might indicate a hazard is not presently
known, and further research is needed to determine the relevance, if
any, of this phenomenon to human health.

Another RF biological effect that has received attention is the
so-called microwave "hearing" effect. Under certain specific
conditions of frequency, signal modulation, and intensity, it has been
shown that animals and humans can perceive an RF signal as a buzzing
or clicking sound. Although a number of theories have been advanced to
explain this effect, the most widely-accepted hypothesis is that the
microwave signal produces thermoelastic pressure within the head that
is perceived as sound by the auditory apparatus within the ear. It is
important to emphasize that the conditions under which this effect
occurs would not normally be encountered by members of the general

[Note:  I mentioned the calcium efflux effect even though no noises
are known to be associated with it.  However, since it is a direct
effect on ion channels in the brain I thought it would be of interest
to you.]


The main reference for these effects seems to be a report done by the
National Council for Radiation Protection in the US:

NCRP (1986) Biological effects and exposure criteria for
radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. National Council on Radiation
Protection and Measurements, Bethseda, Maryland. Report No 86.

The report can be purchased directly from the CRP at:


There is another condition known to be associated with popping noises,
and other types of sounds.  A search for the term "popping sound" at
the National Library of Medicine databases at: 

led to an abstract of the following study on idiopathic perilymphatic
fistula (fluids leaking in the ear from a part of the ear called the
perilymph) :

Audiological aspects of idiopathic perilymphatic fistula.

Fukaya T, Nomura Y.

Acta Otolaryngol Suppl. 1988;456:68-73. 

Department of Otolaryngology, Faculty of Medicine, University of
Tokyo, Japan.

Audiological findings in 40 patients with surgically confirmed
idiopathic perilymphatic fistula were investigated. Most patients
complained of roaring tinnitus, hearing impairment, ear fullness, and
hyperacusis. However, a popping sound and a streaming water-like sound
were noticed only in 8. Pure-tone sensitivity included every kind of
hearing impairment, from sudden profound, to normal sensitivity.
Development of hearing impairment was sudden, and deteriorated
further, fluctuating in order of frequency. In the early stage of
perilymphatic fistula patients had low-frequency hearing impairment
and evidenced dominant-negative SP in the electrocochleogram. These
findings suggest that a fistula of the inner ear window is not solely
responsible for the wide variety of signs and symptoms, and that there
must be simultaneous lesions in the membranous labyrinth.


Beyond these two phenomenon, I did not find other conditions that
involved a popping noise in the head.  More specifically, there was no
reference that I could find to schizophrenia or any other sort of
psychological condition and a symptom involving recurring popping

I hope this is the type of information you were looking for.  If
anything here requires elaboration, just let me know by posting a
Request for Clarification, and I’ll be hapy to assist you further.

And of course....good luck.

search strategy:   "popping noise" (brain OR head) -car -truck -engine
Subject: Re: popping sound in head
From: pinkfreud-ga on 29 Aug 2003 10:59 PDT
Tinnitus can cause sounds that are perceived as coming from inside the head.
Subject: Re: popping sound in head
From: curiousinff-ga on 03 Jan 2005 00:25 PST
Your postings are so old by now that i don't know if you will get
this, but here goes:
I, too, have had popping in my head for years, mostly at night. I
would describe them as small "explosions", usually just one at a time.
I don't know if you know who Edgar Cayce was, but his explantion of
them are that "adhesions" form in the skull & brain (like the kind you
can get in your back, etc.) and these sounds are them actually
dissolving and breaking up. He said its harmless & actually a good
I'm no expert, so take this as interesting information only.
Subject: Re: popping sound in head
From: beckiboo-ga on 04 Feb 2005 05:41 PST
I'm not sure if this is the same thing, but I get popping/clicking
noises in my head too.
Had them when I was younger, probably about 13/14
Recently started getting them more often, it only happens when I'm
walking or moving my head and sounds like tiny little clicks. Sounds
like it is coming from the top central part of my brain.
No idea what it is!

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