Can you fight fire with fire? Probably not. However, you can fight sound with sound, namely tinnitus with audio therapy. Besides being fairly effective, this approach is also a safe one, with virtually no side effects reported in most cases. In this article I will outline the main ways in which you can cure tinnitus with sound therapy, instantly alleviating the bothersome ringing in the ears.
What is sound therapy?
Just as the name implies, sound therapy (also known as audio therapy or sound healing) is the use of sounds, recorded words, or music to achieve a certain level of physical, physiological, or psychological relief from one’s condition.
The usage of sound healing goes back to ancient times when priests and shamans used to chant spells and incantations for all kinds of life’s needs—including the treatment of health conditions. Of course, modern audio therapy does not involve any kind of shady magic whatsoever; mankind has switched the drum and hex for sound systems and MP3s, opening whole new frontiers of effectiveness.
Now let’s get a bit more specific and talk about sound therapy for tinnitus. Does it work at all? And, if yes, how can it heal your ringing in the ears?
How does sound therapy treat tinnitus?
According to the American Tinnitus Association, audio therapy for tinnitus revolves around at least one of the following approaches:
Masking. If a certain sound or music is played loud enough, it is believed that it can cover a person’s ringing in the ears either partially or completely. Masking tinnitus is like hiding a tree in a forest: covering sound with other sounds.
Distraction. When you stop noticing the presence of something, it basically ceases to exist in your subjective reality. Likewise, if sound therapy manages to distract your attention from tinnitus, it’s like you never had it in the first place.
Habituation. In some cases, sound therapy sessions could help your brain to reevaluate the ringing in the ears and start considering it as something ordinary and unimportant, thus ignoring it like the clicking sound of the clock hanging on your wall.
Neuromodulation. This approach involves using a precisely picked sound or sequence of sounds which would individually decrease the hyperactivity of a person’s auditory system—one of tinnitus core components.
It is important to understand that sound therapy won’t cure the underlying cause of your tinnitus, but it could help you stop noticing it at all. And if you are wondering how effective this could be, just think about how often do you consciously notice yourself blinking, breathing, or walking. All of the mentioned actions are ones that we do automatically in most cases, putting no thoughts into the process.
The same approach can be used for tinnitus: just put it into autopilot mode and forget about its existence! Let’s take a look at some solid scientific evidence to back these effectiveness claims.
The effectiveness of sound therapy for tinnitus relief
One of the wittiest approaches to masking ringing in the ears consists of enhancing the volume of all external sounds using hearing aids. This approach is especially effective in cases of tinnitus accompanied by hearing loss. According to a 2008 survey of hearing care professionals, around 60% of their patients experienced certain relief after resorting to hearing aids, and roughly 22% reported significant improvement of their tinnitus. Similarly, a 2010 study which included one hundred tinnitus patients revealed that open ear canal hearing aids improved their tinnitus handicap inventory score by 48%.
Tinnitus masking you can try at home: some people use white noise generators; other folks turn on some rainforest or seashore sound records. You can pick whatever sound you prefer, just keep in mind that it should be played loud enough to cover your tinnitus, and yet not evoke any focus or attention on your part during most of the time.
Music can help your mind drift away from routine problems, including tinnitus. By focusing your inner eye on whatever your imagination or memory presents you while listening to your favorite tunes, you can stop noticing certain nuisances of the present. According to The Hearing Review, music therapy for ringing in the ears is reported as significantly effective by 30% of people. This approach seems to work especially well for those folks who have trouble falling asleep due to their tinnitus.
Tinnitus distraction you can try at home: listening to any kind of music you genuinely like should be enough a distraction for most people. Alternatively, you could try listening to podcasts or audio lectures. If you want to use distraction to fall asleep better, just put on a sleep timer that would automatically turn off your music in around 15-20 minutes: this should suffice to lull you for the night.
What if I told you that you can make your brain get used to the ringing in your ears by giving it some more of it—in your sleep? A study published in The International Tinnitus Journal in 2010 did exactly just that. During 6 consecutive months, eleven patients had been subjected to a sound that imitated their tinnitus in nature and intensity, delivered via an iPod while they slept. All participants of the study reported significant improvement of their condition, most of them after a single week of treatment! Three patients (27%) reported period of absolute silence. Wow!
Tinnitus habituation you can try at home: try searching the web for a sound that imitates your tinnitus as closely as possible, then listen to it a couple of times per day in sessions of at least 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, you could try listening to it in your sleep.
Of all approaches to the sound therapy of tinnitus, neuromodulation is the most complex and delicate one, as it aims to desensitize the patient’s auditory system so that it stops generating the spontaneous ringing. As a rule, neuromodulation treatment is delivered in sessions of several hours per day during at least a couple of weeks, using a fine-tuned sound sequence. Modern studies affirm that neuromodulation could be effective in up to 75% of the patients, reducing tinnitus intensity and impact by up to 50%.
The bottom line
Of course, we’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg: each of the described techniques deserves an article of its own. But the main takeaway point I want you to remember is that sound therapy for the treatment of tinnitus is real, effective, and absolutely safe.
Regardless of whether you’ll try it at home on your own or consult an experienced audio/music therapist, get ready for some serious tinnitus improvement!