As with most matters in life, the sounds we hear influence us depending on the quantity and quality of them. For instance, for most of us, listening to music we like is calming and restful, but flip the volume of the same music up too loud – for example at a rock concert or when listening to earbuds on maximum volume – and the exact same music becomes unpleasant and stress-inducing.
When it comes to music and other sounds, quality is subjective, one that is dependent on taste; the quantity of it (meaning the volume, in decibels), however, is very much objective, and can be measured. We know that when we have been exposed to loud music or sounds above a specific decibel level for extended periods of time, those sounds can harm the miniature hair cells in our ears, and cause noise-induced hearing loss. It’s been estimated that in our raucous society, as many as 1 in 5 Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) or other forms of hearing problems as the result of NIHL. The truth is, even quiet sounds can be disquieting; for instance, sounds at a volume under 10 decibels – quieter than a whisper, such as the sound of a ticking clock – have been shown to cause anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
But despite the fact that sound can be a cause of stress and hearing loss, it can also become a tool to treat the effects of hearing damage. Like many people, you’ve probably experienced the soothing effects of some sounds, such as surf on the ocean, the sound of falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting. More and more, these sorts of sounds are being used by psychologists to treat anxiety rather than create it, and by audiologists to treat hearing problems like tinnitus rather than cause them. Music therapy is reaching the mainstream in hospitals and health clinics to improve healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to impede 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 overcome insomnia and sleep disorders, and to reduce their perceived awareness of background sounds in noisy environments.
More directly related to hearing loss, sound and music therapy is being used increasingly more to treat tinnitus by setting up what therapists call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus patients to psychologically mask the continuous buzzing or ringing sounds they hear. Using music therapy, audiologists have been able to help tinnitus sufferers to retrain their minds, to focus less on the constant ringing, and to focus more on the sounds in the foreground they want to hear, and which are more enjoyable. It’s not as if the ringing disappears; it really is more that the music therapy has allowed the patient to focus their attention elsewhere, and thus no longer feel the anxiety and stress that tinnitus causes.
For tinnitus sufferers looking for new remedies, music therapy is worth looking at. Call us to go over your unique situation.