Sound is an essential part of our lives, but like most things, its effect on us depends on both the quality of the sounds we hear, and the quantity of them. Listening to music can be soothing and enjoyable, but it can also be annoying and aggravating if the volume is excessive.
All of us have a different taste in music, so the quality of a musical work is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured by decibel level and duration is very objective and readily measured. Extended exposure to music in excess of certain decibel levels damages the hair cells of the inner ear leading to noise-induced hearing loss. As a result of coming in contact with these loud sounds, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (continuously hearing a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears). Even muted sounds under 10 decibels can cause stress and anxiety if you’re exposed to them long enough; have you ever been kept awake at night by the sound of a dripping faucet or ticking clock?
Yet although sound can be a cause of stress and hearing damage, it can also become a tool to treat the effects of hearing damage. Chanting, birds singing, waves breaking or falling water are sounds that most people find relaxing and calming. More and more, these sorts of sounds are being used by professionals to treat anxiety rather than create it, and by audiologists to treat hearing problems such as tinnitus rather than cause them. Music therapy is reaching the mainstream in hospitals and health clinics to hasten healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to impede the progression of Alzheimer’s. Both at home and in offices, white noise generators (which produce a sound similar to surf) have been used to conquer sleep disorders and to mask the background sounds of noisy environments.
And in the field of treating hearing loss, sound therapy and music therapy is increasingly being used to treat tinnitus, and to train those who suffer from it to psychologically mask the continuous ringing or buzzing sounds they hear. Using music therapy, audiologists have been able to help tinnitus sufferers to retrain their brains, to focus less on the continuous buzzing, and to focus more on the foreground sounds they want to hear, and which are more enjoyable. It’s not as if the buzzing goes away; it’s more that the music therapy has allowed them to focus their attention elsewhere, and thus no longer experience the stress and anxiety that tinnitus causes.
So if you or a loved one has developed tinnitus, give us a call and set up a consultation so that we can go over treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.