Scientific American this month takes a look at musicophobia – a neurological condition where music can make you have a seizure:
Stacey Gayle used to love music. Listening to it and performing it was a big part of her life. She had stacks of CDs in her car, went to concerts of artists like Sean Paul, and would go to parties where hot songs would blare.
Then she started having seizures.
The first one happened while she slept in her bedroom in Rosedale, Queens in New York City on the night of March 3, 2005. She had just turned 22. Her mother rushed her to the emergency room, where doctors stabilized her. Several brain scans and blood tests gave no clue as to why she seized.
Soon after, she had another, this time at a friend’s barbecue. She blacked out, fell down and started to shake like crazy as her brain cells went out of whack, firing electrical signals without pause.
At first, the seizures seemed to occur randomly. In the spring of 2006, however, she noticed a pattern. At the time, Sean Paul’s “Temperature” was sitting at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, continually being played on urban radio stations. It was playing at nearly every barbecue and party she went to. That was a problem: “Every time it would go on, I would pass out and go into a seizure,” she recalls.
All it seemed to take was a few seconds of the song to send Gayle to the floor. “That’s the last thing you would think,” she explains, “but I did it at home one time and it happened again.”
Doctors decided to monitor her brain reaction to the Sean Paul song, Temperature:
The doctors brought her back to find out where her seizures might be starting. They wanted to scan her brain while she convulsed. She put on “Temperature.” Within five seconds, she recalls, she had a great big seizure.
Mehta and his team found the overexcited brain cells in the lower section of the brain behind her right ear—perhaps not surprising, because that’s the part of the brain that figures out what to do with sounds. The hyperactive cells were also in areas of the brain involved in emotions and memories of particular experiences.
Fortunately for Gayle, the doctors were able to identify the part of her brain was having a reaction to Temperature, and perform surgery to remove it. Now Gayle can listen to music, even Sean Paul, without episodes.
Watching the video myself, it’s hard to imagine how a particular song could trigger a seizure like that.