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MED-EL SYNCHRONY - February 2022

Walking antenna, metallic fillings and Lucille Ball.

Robert L. Folmer, PhD

July 15, 2002

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Question

My mother-in-law keeps hearing music / radio stations and other noises (in both ears). She has had scans etc and has been told that she's very healthy and nothing is wrong. Please help and/or forward suggestions as we are really desperate for her. She seems to have become a ''walking antenna'' since she had most of her teeth crowned. Could there be a coincidence? We look forward to your assistance.

Regards, J. (Durban, South Africa)

Answer

An important consideration in this case is whether or not the music heard by your mother-in-law coincides with broadcasts on local radio stations. If she can match what she hears to radio programs on the air at the same time, it is possible that her crowned teeth are acting as antennae - that is, if the crowns are metallic.

The most famous example of this phenomenon was reported by Lucille Ball in 1942. Lucy had several fillings installed in her teeth around the time she was filming ''Du Barry Was a Lady'' with Red Skelton and Gene Kelly. During the drive home from MGM Studios to her Desilu ranch in the San Fernando Valley, Lucy received radio broadcasts of music through her fillings. She reported the incident to actor Buster Keaton who told her the same thing had happened to a friend of his. A week later, Lucy drove a different route from MGM to the ranch. This time her fillings vibrated with short beeps (DE-DE-DE DE-DE-DE) that sounded like Morse Code. She reported this to the FBI who then searched the area in Coldwater Canyon where she heard the beeps.

FBI agents eventually found a radio transmitter hidden in a tool shed that was used by a Japanese gardener. Later it was determined that the gardener was a member of a spy ring operating on the west coast. So the story goes, anyway.1

Other reports exist of radio broadcasts being received through dental fillings2-3 and even through shrapnel fragments embedded in the skull of a Vietnam veteran.4

If your mother-in-law's perceptions do not coincide with broadcasts on radio stations, we must conclude that they are auditory hallucinations. The perception of auditory hallucinations does not necessarily mean that your mother-in-law is ''crazy.'' Schizophrenics and people suffering from other psychoses or dementia often experience phantom auditory perceptions. Because you wrote that your mother-in-law ''has been told that she's very healthy and nothing is wrong,'' we will rule out psychosis and dementia as possible etiologies for her hallucinations.

It is possible that anesthetic or analgesic medications used during or after the dental procedure caused changes to occur within her auditory system and/or central nervous system. Musical hallucinations have been induced by aspirin5, alcohol6, triazolam7 and propranolol.8 Of course, recreational drugs such as L.S.D., mescalin, marijuana and others have also been known to evoke auditory hallucinations for some users.

In their reviews of the subject, Berrios9 and Gordon10 concluded the following about musical hallucinations: they are usually associated with some degree of hearing loss; they are more common among women (70-80% of the cases); they occur more often among older people (average age = 60-70 years); they are sometimes associated with brain lesions or psychiatric disorders.

Musical hallucinations have been reported by some patients suffering from depression.11-12 In these cases, antidepressant medications can sometimes reduce or eliminate the hallucinations. Antipsychotic medications, anticonvulsants, and anxiolytics have also reduced auditory hallucinations experienced by some patients.9,13

References

  1. Harris WG. Lucy and Desi: The Legendary Love Story of Television's Most Famous Couple. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

  2. Anonymous. Radio transmission through fillings. JAMA 1959;169(11):1271.

  3. Lee AR. The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002.

  4. Boza RA, Liggett SB. Pseudohallucinations: radio reception through shrapnel fragments. Am J Psychiatry 1981;138(9):1263-1264.

  5. Allen JR. Salicylate-induced musical perceptions. New England J Med 1985;313(10):642-643.

  6. Walker CS. The hallucinatory delirium of acute alcoholism. Am J Insanity1903;59:583-597.

  7. Nevins MA. Musical hallucinations and triazolam use. NJ Med 1991;88(12):907-908.

  8. Fernandez A, Crowther TR, Vieweg WV. Musical hallucinations induced by propranolol. J Nerv Ment Dis 1998;186(3):192-194.

  9. Berrios GE. Musical hallucinations: a historical and clinical study. Br J Psychiatry 1990;156:188-194.

  10. Gordon AG. Do musical hallucinations always arise from the inner ear? Med Hypotheses 1997;49:111-122.

  11. Aizenberg D, Modai I, Roitman M, et al. Musical hallucinations, depression and old age. Psychopathology 1987;20:220-223.

  12. Wengel SP, Burke WJ, Holemon D. Musical hallucinations. The sounds of silence? J Am Geriatric Soc 1989;37(2):163-166.

  13. Pasquini F, Cole MG. Idiopathic musical hallucinations in the elderly. J Geriatric Psychiatry Neurol 1997;10(1):11-14.
BIO:

Robert L. Folmer earned his Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Science from the University of California, San Francisco. At U.C.S.F. he conducted numerous EEG and evoked potential studies for the Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, Otolaryngology, and Neurosurgery. In 1997 he joined the staff of the Oregon Health & Science University Tinnitus Clinic where he currently serves as Clinical Neurophysiologist and Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology. His primary duties include evaluation and treatment of patients in the Tinnitus Clinic, and research on psychological and biochemical factors related to tinnitus severity.
http://www.ohsu.edu/ohrc/tinnitusclinic


Robert L. Folmer, PhD

Robert Folmer earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in biology from San Francisco State University.  He received his Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Science from the University of California, San Francisco.  In 1997 he joined the staff of the OHSU Tinnitus Clinic in Portland where he currently serves as Clinical Neurophysiologist and Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology.  In addition to his duties evaluating and treating patients in the Tinnitus Clinic, Dr. Folmer also provides intraoperative neural monitoring during surgeries that involve the spinal cord or cranial nerves.


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