Musical Ear Syndrome

What Is It & Is It Serious?
Last update on May, 31, 2024

Most of us know what it's like to have a song stuck in our head, but what if you hear music that isn't playing? You may be familiar with a phenomenon known as Musical Ear Syndrome (MES), a variation of tinnitus that causes a person to hear musical sounds without an external source.

Most people associate tinnitus with a "ringing" or "hissing" sound, but it can cause a range of other phantom noises, from whistling to cricket-like chirps to ocean waves or short melodies and rhythms.

In this article, we'll discuss what musical ear syndrome is, how it differs from auditory hallucinations, and when it's time to seek help.

Musical Ear Syndrome 101

Musical ear syndrome, or musical tinnitus, is the perception of music in the ears when no external sound is present.


Although rare, it typically occurs in adults with hearing loss. It's also reported more frequently in patients with hearing loss following a stroke, leading researchers to believe that neurological changes may contribute to the development of this syndrome.



What Does MES Sound Like?

With MES, the phantom music or sounds can vary widely from person to person and may include familiar tunes or original compositions. Some people describe it as complex, featuring a combination of sounds or clear and distinct. Others may perceive it as more muffled or distant.

The volume and quality of the music can also differ from person to person.

MES vs. Auditory Hallucinations

Musical ear syndrome should not be confused with auditory hallucinations, which can include verbal sounds (i.e., people speaking) or noises, such as music or background noises.

Auditory hallucinations can create the sensation that sounds are emanating from various locations around you or even from within your mind. These imagined noises can range from barely perceptible whispers to jarringly loud clamor.

While musical ear syndrome is associated with tinnitus, auditory hallucinations are commonly linked to conditions such as schizophrenia and other mental health disorders, particularly if you experience them while you're wide awake vs. drifting off to sleep.

How Rare Is MES?

The prevalence of MES is not well-documented, making it difficult to estimate the exact number of affected individuals. However, it's believed to be more common in older adults and those with hearing loss after a stroke.

As awareness of MES grows, more cases may emerge, shedding further light on the scope of this phenomenon.

Is Musical Ear Syndrome Serious?

As with tinnitus, musical ear syndrome is often a symptom of an underlying condition, however, some research suggests that certain medications like tramadol, used for chronic pain, may also induce MES.

Hearing music from no external source can be distressing and disruptive, affecting your concentration, sleep, and overall wellness. If this is the case, you'll want to connect with a hearing care provider so you can describe your symptoms and receive a thorough evaluation to help identify the root cause of your symptoms.

Tinnitus, whether musical or ringing, is nothing to ignore. It's more commonly associated with hearing loss, a known risk factor for cognitive decline. So, if you're wondering: "Why do I hear music when there is none?" it's time to seek professional help.

How Do You Get Rid of Musical Ear Syndrome?

Finding relief from musical tinnitus can be challenging, as there is no known cure for tinnitus, but a few strategies may help. 

Manage stress

Sound therapy



Get help

Manage stress

Reduce tension

Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga may help reduce the perceived intensity of MES.

Sound therapy

Ambient noise

Using background or ambient noise, such as white noise or nature sounds, may help mask any ringing or noise.


Hearing aids

Hearing aids are often recommended for tinnitus because they can help address the underlying condition that is causing you to experience a phantom sound in your ears. Because hearing loss is a common underlying factor for tinnitus, hearing aids can help improve the audibility of speech and ambient noise, reducing the impact of tinnitus.


Avoiding loud noise

Always protect your ears from further damage by limiting exposure to loud noise and using ear protection when necessary.

Get help

Seek a professional

Consult a hearing care provider specializing in tinnitus to explore treatment options and find a personalized solution.

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If you or someone you love is living with tinnitus, we have the resources and network of providers to ensure you get the care you need and can find relief from your symptoms.

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