Sound is a vital part of our world, but like most things, its impact on us depends on both the quality and quantity of the sounds we hear. Listening to music can be calming and enjoyable, but it can also be annoying and irritating if the volume is excessive.
When it comes to music and other sounds, quality is a subjective phenomenon, one that depends on taste; the quantity of it (meaning the volume, in decibels), however, is incredibly objective, and can be quantified. Exposure to high volume sounds, especially for prolonged time periods, can forever damage the delicate hair cells off the inner ear, and lead to noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. Noise exposure is a significant problem in America. Some estimates are that one in every five individuals has some level of tinnitus or hearing loss as a direct result of noise. The truth is, even quiet sounds can be disquieting; for example, sounds at a volume under 10 decibels – quieter than a whisper, such as the sound of a ticking clock – have been shown to cause stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
On the flip side, sound can be used to reduce anxiety and stress and even treat some aspects of hearing loss. Many individuals have experienced the calming effects of soft music, the tranquil sound of falling water or ocean surf, or the meditative sounds of chanting or Tibetan singing bowls. 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 reaching the mainstream in hospitals and health clinics to hasten healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. People have successfully used white noise generators (which create a mix of frequencies similar to the sound of ocean surf) to help people conquer insomnia and sleep disorders, and to lower their perceived awareness of background sounds in noisy environments.
In the field of audiology, music therapy and sound therapy are exhibiting encouraging results as a tinnitus treatment option. While the music doesn’t make the tinnitus go away, the audiologist is able to work with the patient to psychologically mask the buzzing or ringing sounds. Hearing specialists and audiologists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully chosen music tracks to retrain the mind to focus on foreground sounds instead of the background ringing from tinnitus. It’s not as if the ringing disappears; it’s more that the music therapy has allowed them to focus their attention somewhere else, and thus no longer feel the stress and anxiety that tinnitus may cause.
So if you or a loved one has developed tinnitus, give us a call and set up a consultation so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.