Sound is a vital part of our world, but like most things, its influence on us depends on both the quality of the sounds we hear, and the quantity of them. Most people, as an example, take pleasure in listening to music. However, if we are at a noisy concert or are listening to the music on headphones turned up to an ear-splitting volume, the exact same music can cause anxiety and stress.
Everyone has a different taste in music, thus the quality of a piece of music is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured duration and decibel level is extremely objective and easily quantified. Being exposed to very loud sounds, especially for prolonged 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 raucous society, as many as one in five Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) or other forms of hearing loss as the result of noise-induced hearing loss. Even quiet sounds below 10 decibels may cause anxiety and stress if you are subjected to them long enough; have you ever been kept awake at night by the sound of a dripping faucet or ticking clock?
Yet although sound can be a cause of stress and hearing loss, it can also be a tool to treat the effects of hearing loss. Like many people, you have probably experienced the calming effects of some sounds, such as surf on the ocean, the falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting. More and more, these types of sounds are being used by professionals to treat anxiety rather than create it, and by audiologists to treat hearing problems such as tinnitus rather than cause them. Music therapy is hitting the mainstream in clinics and hospitals to improve healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. White noise generators, which purposefully generate a blend of frequencies to mask other sounds, are helping insomniacs get a better night’s sleep and office workers disregard irritating background noise.
In the field of audiology, music therapy and sound therapy are showing promising results as a tinnitus treatment option. While the music does not make the tinnitus go away, the specialist is able to work with the patient to psychologically mask the buzzing or ringing sounds. Audiologists and hearing specialists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully chosen music tracks to retrain the brain to focus on sounds in the foreground instead of the background ringing from tinnitus. This therapy doesn’t actually make the ringing sounds go away, but it does allow people to no longer feel anxiety and stress as a result of hearing these sounds, and to focus their attention on the sounds they wish to hear.
For tinnitus sufferers looking for new treatment options, music therapy is worth looking at. Call us to discuss your specific situation.