An Introduction to Sound Therapy for Tinnitus and Other Conditions

Sound is an integral part of our lives, but like most things, its influence on us depends on both the quality and quantity of the sounds we hear. For instance, for most of us, hearing music we like is comforting and enjoyable, but flip the volume of that music up too loud – such as at a concert or when listening to earbuds set at too high a volume – and the same music becomes jarring and stress-inducing.

All of us have a different preference in music, so the quality of a musical work is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured by decibel level and duration is very objective and easily measured. We know that when we have been exposed to high volume sounds or music above a specific decibel level for prolonged periods of time, those sounds can damage the tiny hair cells in our ears, and cause 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 (constantly hearing a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears). The truth is, even quiet sounds can be disquieting; for example, sounds at a volume below 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 other hand, sound can be used to reduce anxiety and stress and even treat some aspects of hearing loss. Like many people, you’ve probably experienced the soothing effects of some sounds, such as surf on the ocean, the falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting. These sorts of sounds are increasingly being used to treat anxiety rather than induce it, and are similarly being used by hearing specialists to treat tinnitus rather than cause it. Music therapy is reaching the mainstream in clinics and hospitals to improve healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to impede the progression of Alzheimer’s. Both at home and in workplaces, white noise generators (which produce a sound similar to surf) have been used to cure sleep disorders and to conceal the background sounds of noisy environments.

And in the field of treating hearing loss, sound therapy and music therapy is increasingly being used to treat tinnitus, and to teach those who have this impairment to psychologically disguise the constant ringing or buzzing sounds they hear. Hearing specialists and audiologists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully chosen music tracks to retrain the mind to focus on foreground sounds instead of the background buzzing from tinnitus. It’s not as if the ringing goes away; it really is more that the music therapy has allowed them to focus their attention somewhere else, and thus no longer experience the stress and anxiety that tinnitus may cause.

For tinnitus sufferers searching for new treatment options, music therapy is worth looking at. Call us to go over your specific situation.