Sound is a vital part of our lives, but like most things, its impact on us depends upon both the quality of the sounds we hear, and the quantity of them. Listening to music can be calming and enjoyable, but it can also be annoying and aggravating if the volume is too loud.
All of us have a different taste in music, thus the quality of a piece of music is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured by decibel level and duration is extremely objective and easily measured. Exposure to very loud sounds, particularly for prolonged periods of time, can permanently damage the delicate hair cells that permit us to hear, and lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). It’s been estimated that in our raucous society, as many as one in five Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) or other forms of hearing loss as the result of NIHL. It is easy to understand how excessive volume can cause stress, but so too can really soft sounds. For example, the dripping of a faucet or ticking of a clock (which are usually below 10 decibels) have been shown to cause anxiety, stress and insomnia.
On the flip side, sound can be used to lower anxiety and stress and even treat some aspects of hearing loss. Like many people, you’ve probably experienced the soothing effects of some sounds, such as ocean surf, the falling water, or the meditative sounds of chanting. Recordings of these calming sounds are now in use by psychologists to treat anxiety. They are starting to be used by audiologists to treat certain hearing problems, especially tinnitus. Music therapy has been used to accelerate recovery in hospitals, to facilitate rehabilitation of stroke victims, and as an effective treatment to slow the advance of Alzheimer’s dementia. White noise generators, which intentionally generate a blend of frequencies to mask other sounds, are helping insomniacs get a better night sleep and office workers disregard distracting background noise.
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 have this impairment to psychologically disguise the continuous buzzing or ringing sounds they hear. By using specialized tones or carefully selected music tracks, hearing specialists have been able to teach tinnitus sufferers to retrain their minds to choose the sounds they want to hear over the ringing sounds produced by the tinnitus. While the tinnitus buzzing does not disappear, the anxiety and stress that it otherwise causes are lessened. The patients learn to focus attention on desirable sounds in favor of unwelcome ones.
So if you or a family member has tinnitus, give us a call and arrange a consultation so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.