Sound is an essential part of our lives, but like most things, its effect on us depends on both the quality and quantity of the sounds we hear. Listening to music can be calming and enjoyable, but it can also be annoying and irritating if the volume is too loud.
Everyone has a different taste in music, thus the quality of a musical work is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured duration and decibel level is extremely objective and readily quantified. Extended exposure to music (or any other noises) over specific decibel levels damages the hair cells of the inner ear leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Noise exposure is a massive problem in America. Some estimates are that one in every five individuals has some degree of tinnitus or hearing damage as a direct result of noise. The truth is, even quiet sounds can be disquieting; for instance, sounds at a volume below 10 decibels – softer than a whisper, such as the sound of a ticking clock – have been shown to cause stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
Yet despite the fact that sound can be a cause of stress and hearing damage, it can also be a resource to treat the effects of hearing damage. Like many people, you’ve probably noticed the calming effects of some sounds, such as ocean surf, the sound of falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting. Recordings of these soothing sounds are now in use by psychologists to treat anxiety disorders.. They are starting to be used by audiologists to treat certain hearing problems, especially tinnitus. Music therapy has been used to speed recovery in hospitals, to aid rehabilitation among stroke victims, and as a successful treatment to slow the advance of Alzheimer’s dementia. Both at home and in workplaces, white noise generators (which produce a sound similar to surf) have been used to conquer sleep disorders and to mask the background sounds of noisy environments.
More directly related to hearing loss, sound and music therapy is being used increasingly more to treat tinnitus by creating what professionals call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus patients to psychologically disguise the constant ringing or buzzing sounds they hear. Hearing specialists and audiologists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully selected music tracks to retrain the mind to focus on foreground sounds instead of the background ringing from tinnitus. While the tinnitus ringing does not disappear, the stress and anxiety that it otherwise produces are lessened. The patients learn to focus attention on appealing sounds in favor of unwelcome ones.
So if you or a family member has tinnitus, call us and arrange a consultation so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.