Is there a recurring sound that you hear but nobody does? Is the ringing masking out all the sounds you wish and want to hear? This mysterious sound is tinnitus.
For many, it’s high-pitched ringing, while for others it’s buzzing, humming, chirping, whistling, whooshing, roaring or even shrieking.
One approach to manage this condition is sound therapy.
Get introduced to the different forms of sound therapy that aid people with tinnitus in tuning out the internal sounds of tinnitus.
What causes tinnitus?
There isn’t any specific trigger for tinnitus. While it can sometimes show a sign linked to an issue in the auditory system, doctors haven’t found yet a specific cause. However, there are many possible causes that could be a reason for developing tinnitus. Some of them include:
Long-term exposure to loud noises
Aging- the auditory nerves connecting the ear and the brain start to weaken, withdrawing normal sounds.
Middle ear problems like:
Tumors or cysts
Meniere’s disease- disorder of the balance mechanism found in the inner ear
What are the effects of tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be an intermittent nuisance to some and a constant distraction to others.
It can impact all aspects of your daily life and can interfere with concentration, memory and sleep.
It can lead to anxiety and depression.
Night-time is usually reported as the time when tinnitus is the most distracting and disturbing, especially in quiet environments.
How does sound therapy operate?
Sound therapy is not a cure for tinnitus. However, it significantly lowers the perceived intensity and burden of tinnitus.
Sound therapy works in many different ways. Some believe that sound therapy affects the hearing parts of the brain and causes functional changes to them. Others believe that it acts as a psychological distraction which is used for relaxation. Depending on the techniques used, it can minimize the sounds of tinnitus.:
It makes you ignore the sounds associated with tinnitus and control the hyperactivity initiating tinnitus in the first place.
It trains the brain to reclassify the unwanted sounds as unimportant.
It allows you to play relaxing and comforting sounds such as ocean waves, rain falling or instrumental music.
Your audiologists and your cooperation with them are a big factor influencing the success of these therapies or techniques. In order to suggest the right treatment, they need to identify what is causing tinnitus in the first place.
Can sound therapy help mask tinnitus?
Will tinnitus go away from by itself? The truth is it will not!! Yet, it can become less noticeable over time with different treatments. There are different ways that ease the symptoms of tinnitus and minimize its impact on our life. These treatments are trial-and-error approach. Some might work to you but not to others. You need to coordinate with your audiologist to decide on the best treatment suitable for your condition and lifestyle.
The different types of sound therapy are:
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
It is a treatment used for moderate or severe tinnitus.
As its name indicates, it tries to ‘retrain’ the way the central nervous system, the brain and the auditory system receive, process and decode sound.
It is a combination of sound therapy and counseling to train the brain to ignore the sounds heard in the ear.
It takes over 12-24 months to deal with three major systems involved in the hearing process: the auditory system, the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system.
This technique uses background noises- white noise or nature sounds, to mask tinnitus. It simply distracts attention away from it using sound maskers that you listen to for most of the hours of the day.
Tinnitus maskers are for people with normal or slight hearing loss. They are similar to hearing aids and can be worn around in the ears.
Listening to music or sound machines through headphones gives us a break from tinnitus.
Household items like radios, TVs, and electric fans can also help a lot.
Hearing aids can be a way to mask tinnitus by turning up the volume on outside sounds. This is the case when tinnitus and hearing loss strike withing the same frequency reach.
It is also identified as tinnitus retraining therapy.
It trains the brain to become more habituated to tinnitus. When you get used to hearing sounds very close to your tinnitus sounds for a long period of time, your brain eventually starts to ignore these sounds, along with the tinnitus sounds. Think of the sounds you hear in your house for several years. For example, your brain gets used to the sound of the refrigerator. This treatment operates in the exact same way.
This therapy is done with the guidance from your audiologist. The time frame varies per person, but it usually is anywhere from 12 to 24 months.
It is a series of non-repeating sounds.
It is done with the guidance from your audiologist. They can adjust the rhythm and pitch of the musical notes. They do so in accordance to the patient’s hearing profile and preference.
It works on four components: counseling, amplification, Zen tones and relaxation. Based on them, the audiologist can assess which of them should be part of your treatment plan.
How can we use these sound therapy techniques?
To make use of the different sound therapies available, you need to consider:
The right sound machines that give sound enrichment.
Sound enrichment involves different levels of sounds such as white noise, natural water sounds, oink noise, natural sounds, music, conversations or situational ambient sounds.
Sound machines can be used either at night or during daytime.
They can be put into any wall socket.
They offer the ability to play many different soundtracks.
They can operate independently on all phones.
Bone conduction headphones
They play sound through the mastoid bone which is located right next to the ear. It keeps therefore your ear canal open.
This helps “habituation” technique to teach the brain to reduce the perception of tinnitus over time and tune it out.
They are best used situationally since their battery life is limited.
Bluetooth sleep headbands
They include small speakers that fit right next to your ears when it is correctly worn.
They can connect to your computers or phones via Bluetooth. This enables you to play gentle and calm sounds throughout the evening.
They are small devices that fit comfortably inside the ears.
They offer Bluetooth connectivity.
If you are currently suffering from tinnitus, there is help. Recognizing the differences between these treatment options is very important. Depending on your tinnitus experience that starts from the causes to the intensity, reaching sound types and duration, your audiologist can work with you to recommend a set of treatment options tailored for your needs.