Sound is a vital part of our world, but like most things, its influence on us depends upon both the quality of the sounds we hear, and the quantity of them. Listening to music can be calming and enjoyable, but it can also be annoying and irritating if the volume is too loud.
While the quality of the sounds we hear is subjective, and depends on individual preferences, the quantity (as measured in decibels) is very objective. Being exposed to loud sounds, especially for extended periods of time, can forever damage the delicate hair cells off the inner ear, and cause noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. It has been estimated that in our noisy society, as many as one in five Americans have developed some amount of tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) or other forms of hearing loss as the result of NIHL. Even quiet sounds under 10 decibels may cause anxiety and stress if you’re subjected to them long enough; have you ever been kept awake at night by the sound of a ticking clock, or a dripping faucet?
But interestingly enough, sound can also be used for positive purposes, and even to treat some of the effects of hearing loss. Like many people, you’ve probably noticed the calming effects of some sounds, such as ocean surf, the sound of 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. Music therapy has been used to accelerate recovery in hospitals, to facilitate rehabilitation among stroke victims, and as an effective treatment to impede the advance of Alzheimer’s dementia. White noise generators, which purposefully generate a blend of frequencies to cover up 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 increasingly more to treat tinnitus by setting up what professionals call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus patients to psychologically disguise the continuous ringing or buzzing sounds they hear. By using specialized tones or carefully chosen music tracks, hearing specialists have been able to teach tinnitus sufferers to retrain their brains to choose the sounds they want to hear over the ringing sounds produced by the tinnitus. While the tinnitus buzzing does not go away, the stress and anxiety that it otherwise produces are lessened. The patients learn to focus attention on appealing sounds in favor of unwelcome ones.
For tinnitus sufferers searching for new treatment methods, music therapy is worth looking at. Give us a call to discuss your unique situation.