As with most matters in life, the sounds we hear affect us depending on the quality and quantity of them. Listening to music can be calming and enjoyable, but it can also be annoying and aggravating if the volume is excessive.
When it comes to music and other sounds, quality is subjective, one that is dependent on individual preferences; the quantity of it (meaning the volume, in decibels), however, is incredibly objective, and can be measured. We know that when people are exposed to very loud music or sounds above a certain decibel level for extended amounts of time, those sounds can damage the tiny hair cells in our ears, and cause noise-induced hearing loss. It’s been estimated that in our noisy society, as many as 1 in 5 Americans have developed some amount of tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) or other forms of hearing problems as the result of NIHL. In reality, even muted sounds can be disquieting; for instance, sounds at a volume under 10 decibels – softer than a whisper, such as the sound of a ticking clock – have been shown to cause anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
But strangely enough, sound can also be used for positive purposes, and even to treat some of the effects of hearing loss. Many individuals have experienced the soothing effects of soft music, the tranquil sound of surf or falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting or Tibetan singing bowls. 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 particular hearing problems, especially tinnitus. In hospitals and clinics, music therapy has been used successfully to hasten recovery from surgical procedures, to help stroke victims during their recovery, and to impede the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. White noise generators, which purposefully generate a mixture of frequencies to mask other sounds, are helping insomniacs get a better night’s sleep and office workers tune out distracting background noise.
More specifically related to hearing loss, sound and music therapy is being used more and more to treat tinnitus by creating what therapists call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus patients to psychologically mask the constant buzzing or ringing sounds they hear. Hearing specialists and audiologists trained in music therapy for tinnitus sufferers use carefully chosen music tracks to retrain the mind to focus on sounds in the foreground instead of the background buzzing from tinnitus. It’s not as if the buzzing goes away; it’s more that the music therapy has allowed the patient to focus their attention elsewhere, and thus no longer experience the stress and anxiety that tinnitus causes.
If you have tinnitus, or any other form of hearing loss, and are curious about what music therapy or other tinnitus treatments could do for you, call us.