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McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

Sound is an integral part of our lives, but like most things, its influence on us depends on both the quality and quantity of the sounds we hear. Most people, for example, enjoy listening to music. However, if we are at a noisy concert or are listening to the music on headphones turned up to a literally ear-splitting volume, the same music can cause anxiety and stress.

All of us have a different taste in music, so the quality of a piece of music is always subjective. On the other hand, the quantity as measured by decibel level and duration is very objective and easily quantified. We know that when people are subjected to loud sounds or music above a certain decibel level for extended periods of time, those sounds can damage the tiny hair cells in our ears that allow us to hear, and cause noise-induced hearing loss. Noise exposure is a huge problem in America. Some estimates are that one in every five persons has some degree of tinnitus or hearing loss as a direct result of noise. Even muted sounds below 10 decibels (half the volume of a whisper) may cause anxiety and stress if you are exposed to them long enough; have you ever been kept awake at night by the sound of a dripping faucet or ticking clock?

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 relaxing and calming. These sorts of sounds are increasingly being used to treat anxiety rather than create it, and are similarly being used by hearing specialists to treat tinnitus rather than cause it. In hospitals and clinics, music therapy has been successfully used to accelerate recovery from surgical procedures, to aid stroke victims during their rehabilitation, and to impede the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. White noise generators, which purposefully produce 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.

In the field of audiology, music therapy and sound therapy are showing encouraging results as a tinnitus treatment alternative. While the music doesn’t make the tinnitus go away, the therapist is able to work with the patient to psychologically mask the ringing or buzzing sounds. 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 sounds in the foreground they want to hear, and which are more enjoyable. It’s not as if the ringing goes away; it really is more that the music therapy has allowed them to focus their attention elsewhere, and thus no longer feel the anxiety and stress that tinnitus causes.

For tinnitus sufferers searching for new remedies, music therapy is worth considering. Contact us to discuss your specific situation.