Sound in an amazing thing. It influences our emotions and thoughts in many ways – both positive and negative. Most people, as an example, enjoy listening to music. However, if we are at a noisy rock concert or are listening to the music on headphones turned up to an ear-splitting volume, the same music can cause anxiety and stress.

While the quality of the sounds we hear is subjective, and depends upon individual preferences, the quantity (as measured by loudness ,in decibels) is very objective. We know that when people are subjected to very loud sounds or music above a specific decibel level for prolonged periods of time, those sounds can damage the miniature hair cells in our ears, and cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). It’s been estimated that in our noisy society, as many as one in five Americans have developed some amount of tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) or other forms of hearing loss as the result of noise-induced hearing loss. Even muted sounds under 10 decibels (half the volume of a whisper) can cause anxiety and stress if you’re exposed to them long enough; have you ever been kept awake at night by the sound of a dripping faucet or ticking clock?

But interestingly enough, sound can also be used for positive purposes, and even to treat some of the effects of hearing loss. Many people have experienced the calming effects of soft music, the tranquil sound of surf or falling water, or the meditative sounds of Tibetan singing bowls or chanting. Increasingly, these types of sounds are being used by professionals to treat anxiety rather than create it, and by audiologists to treat hearing problems such as tinnitus rather than cause them. Music therapy is hitting the mainstream in clinics and hospitals to accelerate healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. People have successfully used white noise generators (which create a mixture of frequencies similar to the sound of ocean surf) to help people overcome 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 promising results as a tinnitus treatment alternative. While the music does not make the tinnitus go away, the audiologist is able to work with the patient to psychologically mask the buzzing or ringing sounds. Audiologists and hearing specialists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully selected music tracks to retrain the brain to focus on sounds in the foreground instead of the background ringing from tinnitus. It’s not as if the buzzing goes away; it really is more that the music therapy has allowed them to focus their attention elsewhere, and thus no longer feel the stress and anxiety that tinnitus can cause.

So if you or a family member has developed tinnitus, call us and arrange an appointment so that we can go over treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.

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