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. Most of us, for example, take pleasure in listening to music. However, if we are at a concert or are listening to the music over earbuds turned up to a literally ear-splitting volume, the exact same music can cause anxiety and stress.
All of us have a different preference in music, so the quality of a piece of music is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured duration and decibel level is extremely objective and readily measured. Prolonged 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). It has been estimated that in our raucous 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 noise-induced hearing loss. The truth is, even quiet sounds can be disquieting; for example, sounds at a volume below 10 decibels – quieter than a whisper, such as the sound of a ticking clock – have been shown to cause anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
On the other hand, sound can be used to decrease anxiety and stress and even treat some types of hearing loss. Chanting, ocean surf, birds singing or falling water are sounds that most people find relaxing and calming. 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 improve healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. White noise generators, which intentionally produce a mixture of frequencies to cover up other sounds, are helping insomniacs get a better night sleep and office workers disregard distracting background noise.
In the field of audiology, music therapy and sound therapy are exhibiting promising results as a tinnitus treatment alternative. While the music doesn’t make the tinnitus go away, the specialist is able to work with the patient to psychologically mask the buzzing or ringing sounds. By using specialized tones or carefully selected music tracks, hearing specialists have been able to teach tinnitus patients to retrain their minds to choose the sounds they want to hear over the ringing sounds caused by the tinnitus. It’s not as if the buzzing goes away; it’s more that the music therapy has allowed them to focus their attention elsewhere, and thus no longer experience the anxiety and stress that tinnitus causes.
So if you or a loved one has tinnitus, contact us and arrange a consultation so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.