Sound in an extraordinary thing. It impacts our emotions and well-being in numerous ways – both positive and negative. Listening to music can be calming and enjoyable, but it can also be stressful and irritating if the volume is too loud.
Everyone has a different taste in music, therefore the quality of a piece of music is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured duration and decibel level is very objective and readily quantified. We know that when we have been exposed to high volume sounds or music above a certain decibel level for extended periods of time, those sounds can damage the miniature hair cells in our ears that allow us to hear, and cause noise-induced hearing loss. Noise exposure is a significant problem in America. Some estimates are that one in every five individuals has some degree of tinnitus or hearing damage as a direct consequence of noise. The truth is, even quiet sounds can be disquieting; for example, sounds at a volume below 10 decibels – quieter than a whisper, such as the sound of a ticking clock – have been proven to cause anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
Yet although sound can be a cause of anxiety and hearing loss, it can also be a tool to treat the effects of hearing damage. Chanting, birds singing, waves breaking or falling water are sounds that nearly all people find soothing and calming. Recordings of these calming 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. In hospitals and clinical situations, music therapy has been used successfully to speed recovery from operations, to aid stroke victims during their rehab, and to slow the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. People have successfully used white noise generators (which create a mix of frequencies similar to the sound of ocean surf) to help people overcome insomnia and sleep disorders, and to reduce their perceived awareness of background sounds in noisy environments.
More directly related to hearing loss, sound and music therapy is being used more and more to treat tinnitus by setting up what specialists call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus patients to psychologically disguise the constant buzzing or ringing sounds they hear. Using music therapy, audiologists have been able to help tinnitus sufferers to retrain their minds, to focus less on the constant ringing, and to focus more on the foreground sounds they want to hear, and which are more enjoyable. This treatment doesn’t actually make the ringing sounds go away, but it does allow patients to no longer feel stress and anxiety from hearing these sounds, and to focus their attention on the sounds they wish to hear.
So if you or a loved one has tinnitus, call us and set up an appointment so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.