Sound is an integral part of our lives, but like most things, its influence on us depends upon both the quality and quantity of the sounds we hear. 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 using earphones set at too high a volume – and the same music becomes jarring and capable of inducing stress.
While the quality of the sounds we hear is subjective, and depends upon individual tastes, the quantity (as measured in decibels) is quite objective. We know that when we have been subjected to high volume sounds or music above a specific decibel level for extended amounts of time, those sounds can damage the tiny hair cells in our ears that allow us to hear, and cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). It’s been estimated that in our raucous society, as many as 1 in 5 Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) or other forms of hearing problems as the result of NIHL. Its easy to understand how excessive volume can cause anxiety, but so too can really soft sounds. For example, the leaky drip of a faucet or ticking of a clock (which are usually below 10 decibels) have been shown to trigger stress, anxiety and insomnia.
On the other hand, sound can be used to reduce anxiety and stress and even treat some types of hearing loss. Chanting, birds singing, waves breaking or falling water are sounds that nearly all people find soothing and calming. More and more, these sorts of sounds are being used by professionals to treat anxiety rather than create it, and by audiologists to treat hearing problems like tinnitus rather than cause them. Music therapy is reaching the mainstream in clinics and hospitals to improve healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. Both at home and in offices, white noise generators (which produce a sound similar to surf) have been used to cure sleep disorders and to mask the background sounds of noisy spaces.
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 mask the continuous buzzing or ringing sounds they hear. By using specialized tones or carefully selected music tracks, hearing specialists have been able to teach tinnitus sufferers to retrain their minds to choose the sounds they want to hear over the ringing sounds produced by the tinnitus. This treatment doesn’t actually make the ringing sounds disappear, but it does allow people to no longer feel stress and anxiety as a result of hearing these sounds, and to focus their attention on the sounds they wish to hear.
For tinnitus sufferers seeking new remedies, music therapy is worth considering. Give us a call to go over your specific situation.