Sound in an extraordinary thing. It impacts our emotions and thoughts in so many different ways – both negative and positive. Listening to music can be soothing and enjoyable, but it can also be stressful and aggravating if the volume is too loud.
Everyone has a different taste in music, therefore the quality of a piece of music is always subjective. On the other hand, the quantity as measured duration and decibel level is extremely objective and readily measured. Extended exposure to music in excess of certain decibel levels damages 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 ringing or buzzing sound in the ears). In reality, 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 shown to cause anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
On the other hand, sound can be used to decrease anxiety and stress and even treat some aspects of hearing loss. Many people have experienced the calming effects of soft music, the relaxing 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 disorders.. They are starting to be used by audiologists to treat particular hearing problems, especially tinnitus. In hospitals and clinics, music therapy has been used successfully to speed recovery from operations, to help stroke victims during their rehab, and to impede the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. Both at home and in workplaces, white noise generators (which produce a sound similar to surf) have been used to overcome sleep disorders and to conceal the background sounds of noisy environments.
In the field of audiology, music therapy and sound therapy are showing promising results as a tinnitus treatment alternative. While the music doesn’t make the tinnitus go away, the audiologist is able to work with the patient to psychologically mask the ringing or buzzing sounds. Hearing specialists and audiologists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully chosen music tracks to retrain the mind to focus on sounds in the foreground instead of the background buzzing from tinnitus. While the tinnitus buzzing does not disappear, the anxiety and stress that it otherwise causes are lessened. The patients learn to focus attention on appealing sounds in favor of unwelcome ones.
If you have tinnitus, or any other form of hearing damage, and are interested in what music therapy or other tinnitus treatments might be able to do for you, contact us.