Sound in an amazing thing. It impacts our moods and thoughts in numerous ways – both negative and positive. For example, for most of us, listening to music we like is calming and restful, but turn the volume of the same music up too loud – such as at a concert or when listening to headphones set at too high a volume – and the very same music is unpleasant and stress-inducing.
When it comes to music and other sounds, quality is a subjective phenomenon, one that is dependent on taste; the quantity of it (meaning the volume, in decibels), however, is incredibly objective, and can be measured. We know that when we have been subjected to high volume sounds or music above a certain decibel level for extended amounts of time, those sounds can harm the miniature hair cells in our ears, and cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). As a result of being exposed to these loud sounds, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (continuously hearing a buzzing or ringing sound in the ears). It is easy to understand how excessive volume can cause stress, but so too can really soft sounds. For example, the dripping of a faucet or ticking of a clock (which are usually below 10 decibels) have been shown to trigger stress, anxiety and insomnia.
But interestingly enough, sound can also be used for positive purposes, and even to treat some of the effects of hearing loss. Chanting, ocean surf, birds singing or falling water are sounds that nearly all people find relaxing and calming. Recordings of these calming sounds are now in use by psychologists to treat anxiety. They are starting to be used by audiologists to treat certain hearing problems, especially tinnitus. In hospitals and clinics, music therapy has been successfully used to speed recovery from surgical procedures, to aid stroke victims during their rehabilitation, and to impede the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. People have successfully used white noise generators (which create a blend 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.
And in the field of treating hearing loss, sound therapy and music therapy is increasingly being used to treat tinnitus, and to teach those who suffer from it to psychologically disguise the constant ringing or buzzing sounds they hear. By using specialized tones or well chosen music tracks, audiologists have been able to teach tinnitus sufferers to retrain their brains to prefer the sounds they want to hear over the buzzing sounds caused by the tinnitus. This treatment method doesn’t actually make the ringing sounds go away, but it does allow patients to no longer feel anxiety and stress as a result of hearing these sounds, and to focus their attention on the sounds they wish to hear.
If you have experienced tinnitus, or any other form of hearing loss, and are interested in what music therapy or other tinnitus treatment options might be able to do for you, contact us.