Essentials of Music Therapy for Tinnitus and Other Conditions

As with most matters in life, the sounds we hear influence us depending on the quantity and quality of them. Most people, for example, take pleasure in listening to music. However, if we are at a loud rock concert or are listening to the music on earbuds turned up to an ear-splitting volume, the same music can cause stress and anxiety.

While the quality of the sounds we hear is subjective, and depends upon individual preferences, the quantity (as measured by loudness ,in decibels) is very objective. Prolonged exposure to music over specific decibel levels injures the hair cells of the inner ear leading to noise-induced hearing loss. As a result of being exposed to these loud sounds, an estimated one in five Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (constantly hearing a buzzing or ringing sound in the ears). The truth is, even quiet sounds can be disquieting; for example, sounds at a volume under 10 decibels – softer than a whisper, such as the sound of a ticking clock – have been proven to cause stress, anxiety, and insomnia.

On the flip side, sound can be used to lower stress and anxiety and even treat some types of hearing loss. Like many people, you’ve probably noticed the soothing effects of some sounds, such as ocean surf, the falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting. These sorts of sounds are increasingly being used to treat anxiety rather than create it, and are similarly being used by hearing specialists to treat tinnitus rather than cause it. In hospitals and clinical situations, music therapy has been used successfully to hasten recovery from surgical procedures, to aid stroke victims during their rehabilitation, and to slow the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. White noise generators, which intentionally produce a blend of frequencies to conceal other sounds, are helping insomniacs get a better night sleep and office workers tune out distracting background noise.

More directly related to hearing loss, sound and music therapy is being used more and more to treat tinnitus by creating what therapists call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus sufferers to psychologically mask the constant ringing or buzzing sounds they hear. By using specialized tones or carefully selected music tracks, hearing specialists have been able to teach tinnitus sufferers to retrain their brains to prefer the sounds they want to hear over the ringing sounds caused by the tinnitus. This therapy doesn’t really make the buzzing sounds go away, but it does allow people to no longer experience stress and anxiety as a result of hearing these sounds, and to focus their attention on the sounds they want to hear.

If you have experienced tinnitus, or any other form of hearing loss, and are interested in what music therapy or other tinnitus treatment methods might be able to do for you, give us a call.

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