For many people with tinnitus, controlling symptoms involves changing aspects of their lifestyle. They cut out unhealthy foods, tobacco and caffeine. They reduce their stress. They limit exposure to loud noises.
But what if you could treat your tinnitus by adding something to your routine? And what if that thing you added was the very thing you were trying to get rid of in the first place?
Believe it or not, many patients successfully manage their tinnitus symptoms by adding more noise into their day. It’s a process called sound therapy and it’s helping many tinnitus sufferers lead more productive and peaceful lives.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the technical name for sound that doesn’t have an external source. Tinnitus is usually heard as a persistent, high-pitched ringing in the ears, but it can also be a buzzing, humming, roaring, shrieking or the sound of your own heartbeat.
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom of something else going on in your body, such as damage to the inner ear, stress or a side effect from medication. Tinnitus symptoms can be low-pitched or high-pitched, the volume can vary, and patients can experience it in one or both ears. The quieter the environment, the louder tinnitus feels. This is why it may seem to vanish when other noise is in the room, like when the television is on or music is playing.
What Is Sound Therapy?
Sound therapy means using external noise to change how you perceive and react to your tinnitus symptoms. Like other treatments, sound therapy for tinnitus isn’t a cure, but it can significantly lower the volume and intensity of your symptoms, making it much more easy to live with them.
There are four basic types of sound therapy:
- Masking: playing noise at a high enough volume to cover the sound of tinnitus
- Distraction: using sound to distract you from the sound of tinnitus
- Habituation: treatment that helps your brain learn to ignore tinnitus
- Neuromodulation: using special sounds to calm your mind and minimize brain hyperactivity that may be causing tinnitus
What Do I Need to Know Before I Buy a Sound Therapy Product?
Before you invest in a sound therapy device, here are some criteria you should consider:
- Symptoms: as you read the product list below, consider what fits best into your lifestyle. If your tinnitus is most bothersome at night, you may want something you can keep in your room and use as you sleep. If your tinnitus bothers you throughout the day, you may prefer a portable option.
- Price: while there are several affordable options for managing your symptoms, medical-grade sound therapy devices can be expensive and are usually not covered by your insurance.
- Sound Sensitivity: patients with sound sensitivity may experience discomfort when using sound amplifying devices.
- Ongoing Treatment, Education and Support: remember, sound therapy is not a cure for tinnitus, but rather another tool in your treatment belt. You’ll see the most success with sound therapy if you combine it healthy lifestyle changes, talk therapy, patient education and other symptom management techniques that work for you.
What Products Do You Need for Sound Therapy?
There are many devices that offer different levels of sound therapy. These include:
Sound Masking Devices
Sound masking devices, or sound machines, produce background noise. This is often white noise, pink noise (a mix of high and low frequencies that sounds more balanced and natural than white noise), nature sounds or other relaxing or neutral sounds. Sound machines can partially or fully mask your tinnitus, allowing you to relax and experience some temporary relief from the often-stressful symptoms.
Almost anything that produces sound can be used for masking, including your smartphone, mp3 player, computer, radio or television. Many patients also find relief from electric fans or table fountains. Or, you can purchase a small table-top device with several preset sounds programmed.
Hearing aids can make sounds louder and clearer, which can improve the quality of the auditory signals that reach your brain and distract you from your tinnitus. But modern hearing aids are also digital, meaning they can produce sounds as well as enhance it. They effectively create a white noise machine that rests comfortable in your ear. If you decide a sound-producing hearing aid is a good fit for you, you and your audiologist can work together to find the pitch, frequency and sound quality that best counteracts your tinnitus symptoms.
Modified-Sound and Notched-Music Devices
While sound machines deliver sounds that mask tinnitus, certain medical-grade devices provide custom therapeutic sounds that can provide relief even after they have been turned off. The devices play special notched-music or algorithmically-modified sounds where certain tones and frequencies are emphasized often at a level that you can’t even consciously hear. Notched-music devices are usually worn only during therapy sessions overseen by a specially trained counselor, or at specific times of the day when your symptoms are particularly bothersome. Over time, these devices get you used to the sound of tinnitus. This helps your brain tune out and ignore the noise.
Sound and Sleep Apps
Many apps that are available for our smartphones and tablets make pretty strong claims, so it can be hard to figure out which ones might really help you reduce your symptoms and get a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, many of these apps are free, so you can search the App Store or Google Play and experiment with which ones work best for you. You can also ask your audiologist if they recommend any apps that have worked well for their other patients.