Tinnitus affects approximately 50 million Americans to some degree or another. An individual with tinnitus hears a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or some other unpleasant sound in their ears when there is no external source of the sound. These unwanted and annoying sounds may be infrequent or more continuous.
Ways to Relieve Tinnitus Symptoms
A number of sound therapy applications and devices are available to help manage and alleviate tinnitus symptoms. Sound therapy falls under one of four general headings: masking, distraction, habituation, and neuromodulation.
- Masking involves devices that play noises loud enough to cover up (mask) tinnitus sounds. Most people refer to these sounds as “white noise.”
- Distraction treatments direct the individual’s attention away from their active tinnitus toward some other more pleasant noise (e.g., nature sounds or fractal tones).
- Habituation seeks to train the brain to eventually block out the tinnitus noises.
- Neuromodulation is sound therapy that aims to “rewire” the components of the brain causing the tinnitus. Neuromodulation treatments are limited to subjective tinnitus, the most common form of this condition.
Examples of Masking Devices: Mobile applications that play soothing or calming sounds. Individuals use these apps with smart wireless earbuds or hearing aids.
Example of an Habituation Device: A device that emits sounds is placed in the inner ear during sleep. This approach helps to train the user’s brain to ignore the annoying sounds. First-time wearers pick sounds similar to ones they hear in their ears. The device plays back sounds during sleep until the user adjusts to them and can tune them out.
How Does Sound Therapy Work?
Users may place special devices emitting a quiet background noise on their nightstand or tabletop. Others may carry the device with them on the go. For those who deal with relatively constant noises, may wear a sound or utilize a smartphone app. Similarly, devices can be customized by playing sounds at tones and frequencies tailored to individual needs.
- Some use hearing aids in sound therapy. They can help make sounds loud enough to mask the tinnitus or distract the sufferer from it. Users may also customize their hearing aids to make specific sounds.
The Sounds of Sound Therapy
Different devices make different types of sound as follows:
- Broadband noise sounds a bit like radio static. It includes various “colors” of noise, like red, white, and pink noise. These “colorful” noises come with different frequencies (the number of vibrations per second, also called pitch).
- Modulated tones can sound like they’re softly pulsing.
- Notched sounds emphasize certain tones or frequencies. Users tailor these sounds to match specific tinnitus symptoms.
Sound Therapy Via Adjusted Music
Users access an online playlist of music and request the removal of the most bothersome sounds. Listening to adjusted music assists in reorganizing the brain’s auditory cortex, the part of the brain that perceives sound.
Final Thoughts on Tinnitus Relief
While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there is an increasing range of symptom relief options. Sound therapy is most effective when directed by an audiologist with specific training in and experience with tinnitus.