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Why Sean Paul's tunes made one woman sick

By Melissa Dahl, health writer

Does the very sound of a Fergie tune make you feel a bit ill? Maybe it’s not all in your head.

For Stacey Gayle, it was hip-hop artist Sean Paul who was making her sick – specifically his 2005 hit “Temperature.” Before the Jamaican rapper could promise to keep her warm, to shelter her from the storm, Paul had sent Gayle into a seizure.

When Gayle collapsed at a barbecue immediately after a Sean Paul song started playing, the 25-year-old started to put the pieces together. She brought her iPod to a medical center and played a Sean Paul song for her doctors – and suffered through three seizures shortly after.

Gayle was diagnosed with musicogenic epilepsy, a rare condition that sends its victims into seizures at the sound of certain musical cues. Surgeons removed a chunk of the right side of her brain, allowing Gayle to keep spinning Sean Paul on her iPod.

Paul appears to have been blessed with a particularly offending voice. Some singers are more likely than others to cause epileptic episodes, researchers have found. Those with a throaty voice and a lower range are most likely to send their listeners into epileptic fits. It’s not a particular note, pitch or rhythm that triggers the seizures – it’s in the way the singers’ larynx is incorrectly positioned while they warble.

Although the phenomenon isn’t common, Gayle’s not alone. One man couldn’t listen to romantic music, particularly tunes from Frank Sinatra, without having a seizure. And a 6-month-old girl’s seizures were sparked by loud rock music – especially songs by the Beatles.

Neurologist Macdonald Critchley published a lengthy report in 1937 about musicogenic epilepsy – or musicolepsia, as he preferred to call it. Based on his findings, Critchley wondered if the condition was actually more common than thought.

Critchley found that many people reported getting a creepy, even frightening, feeling once they heard certain songs – but the feeling was so disturbing that they would quickly cover their ears and switch the music off, neurologist Oliver Sacks writes in his book "Musicophilia." Critchley believed most people try to get away from the upsetting tunes before the strange feeling turns into something more serious, such as a seizure.

In other words – your instinct to shut the radio off before Fergie-Fergs can finish her first thought may be for your own good.