Characterized by ringing or buzzing in the ears, tinnitus can be a frustrating and challenging condition to live with. Although people with tinnitus can often ‘hear’ noises, these sounds don’t have an external cause. As a result, people with tinnitus typically experience on-going irritation due to the presence of a sound that isn’t really there. Can sound therapy help? Here’s what you need to know.
What is Tinnitus and what causes it?
Imagine constantly hearing a sound that other people cannot hear and that never goes away. This is tinnitus. Most people assume that it refers to a buzzing or ringing sound in the ears, but tinnitus can also involve clicking, whooshing, humming, hissing or other types of sounds. For some people, tinnitus causes constant noise, which can make it difficult to concentrate on day-to-day tasks and can affect their quality of life. Although the cause of tinnitus is not yet fully known, it’s often associated with hearing loss, long-term exposure to loud noises, middle ear problems like an infection, a tumor or cyst pinching nerves in the ear, or something as simple as earwax buildup. While there’s currently no known cure for tinnitus, there are a number of ways to get at least some soothing relief. One of the most well-established methods is sound therapy.
How can sound therapy help tune out tinnitus?
Sound therapy uses external noise to alter your perception of or reaction to tinnitus. Its two common types are masking and habituation, or retraining therapy.
This describes treatment options that use devices (known as sound maskers) that play noises loud enough to cover up—or mask—your tinnitus. The sound can be anything from white noise to nature or ambient sounds. Listening to sound machines or music through headphones or other devices can offer temporary breaks from the perception of tinnitus. As many people with tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss, hearing aids can be used to mask tinnitus by turning up the volume on outside noises. This works especially well when hearing loss and tinnitus occur within the same frequency range. The audiologist customizes the masking based on your hearing and tinnitus severity, which is found during a tinnitus evaluation.
Also known as tinnitus retraining therapy, this process trains your brain to become more accustomed to tinnitus and learn to ‘ignore’ it. During habituation, you listen to noises for long periods. Widex Zen is a series of non-repeating sounds. Widex Zen is backed by research and has proven to be an effective management strategy for tinnitus. Eventually, your brain learns to ignore the tone, along with the tinnitus sound. This doesn’t mean that your tinnitus goes away, only that your brain learns to classify the sound as something unimportant. Similarly to the way you learn to tune out traffic if you live on a busy street. After a while, you no longer notice the sound of passing cars. The therapy is done with guidance from an audiologist and the time frame varies per person, usually anywhere from 12 to 24 months. Many patients notice a significant reduction in their tinnitus within the first six months.
How to get started
Remember that no tinnitus treatment works immediately—it takes time and commitment from you to minimize your tinnitus. You can get started by playing soothing tinnitus masking sounds like white noise and nature sounds into your ears, often at night, to hide the ringing, hissing or clicking tinnitus sound. You can do this with either an app or a dedicated tinnitus therapy device. This will start training your brain to filter out the background sounds that are not important enough to be acknowledged. To begin tinnitus treatment with sound therapy, it’s best to speak to your audiologist about which devices or apps would be ideal for your specific case of tinnitus.
If you experience tinnitus and find it uncomfortable or overwhelming, speaking to a trained audiologist can assist in the treatment of your tinnitus and can help provide relief from the condition in a variety of ways.
Need to talk to an audiologist about treatment for tinnitus? Book an appointment today!