The Latest in Sound Therapy for Tinnitus Sufferers

Like most things in life, the sounds we hear affect us based on the quality and quantity of them. For example, for most of us, hearing music we enjoy is comforting and relaxing, but flip the volume of that music up too loud – for example at a rock concert or when using earphones on maximum volume – and the same music becomes unpleasant and capable of inducing stress.

When it comes to music and other sounds, quality is a subjective phenomenon, one that is dependent on taste; the quantity of it (meaning the volume, in decibels), however, is very much objective, and can be quantified. Extended exposure to music (or any other noises) in excess of certain decibel levels injures the hair cells of the inner ear leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). As a result of being exposed to these loud sounds, an estimated one in five Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (continuously hearing a buzzing or ringing sound in the ears). Even quiet sounds below 10 decibels (half the volume of a whisper) can cause stress and anxiety if you are exposed to them long enough; have you ever been kept awake at night by the sound of a dripping faucet or ticking clock?

But interestingly enough, sound can also be used for beneficial purposes, and even to treat some of the effects of hearing loss. Many people have experienced the soothing effects of soft music, the tranquil sound of surf or falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting or Tibetan singing bowls. Recordings of these soothing sounds are now in use by psychologists to treat anxiety. They are starting to be used by audiologists to treat particular hearing problems, especially tinnitus. Music therapy is hitting the mainstream in hospitals and health clinics to hasten healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to impede the progression of Alzheimer’s. People have successfully used white noise generators (which create a mixture of frequencies similar to the sound of ocean surf) to help people conquer insomnia and sleep disorders, and to lower their perceived awareness of background sounds in noisy environments.

In the field of audiology, music therapy and sound therapy are showing promising results as a tinnitus treatment alternative. While the music does not make the tinnitus go away, the therapist is able to work with the patient to psychologically mask the ringing or buzzing sounds. Audiologists and hearing specialists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully selected music tracks to retrain the brain to focus on foreground sounds instead of the background buzzing from tinnitus. While the tinnitus ringing does not go away, the anxiety and stress that it otherwise produces are diminished. The patients learn to focus attention on desirable sounds in favor of undesirable ones.

So if you or a friend has tinnitus, contact us and arrange an appointment so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.

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