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Can Music Help Tinnitus?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 6 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Tinnitus Ringing Buzzing Hissing

Tinnitus describes the condition in which you can hear sounds that aren't really there. It isn't the same as hearing voices, as someone with a mental illness might, the sounds are more like 'noise'. People with tinnitus commonly hear ringing sounds, buzzing, hissing or rumbling. At first, tinnitus is noticeable only when everything is quiet but as it gets worse, the noises that are perceived get louder and drown out the sounds coming into the ear from the outside world.

Tinnitus doesn't stop at night – it is a 24- hour a day problem that stops people sleeping, interferes with work and causes a big impact on their quality of life. Tinnitus affects your social life and relationships – it can prevent normal conversations and it makes using any kind of phone very difficult.

Tinnitus is a type of hearing damage. It occurs when the delicate structures in the inner ear are damaged, either because of an underlying illness, or by exposure to loud noise. Because tinnitus is caused by injury or problems with the nerve connections between the inner ear and the brain, it is difficult to treat. Once nerves have been damaged, they cannot recover.

Tinnitus Treatments

Tinnitus is a difficult condition to treat and to cope with. Being constantly aggravated by noise that you can't control can be frustrating and it can cause depression. Sometimes people cope better with tinnitus if they practice relaxation therapies and positive thinking but, in severe cases, anti-depressants may be needed.

Special kinds of hearing aid are also used to treat tinnitus. Although your ability to hear external sounds may not be too bad, having a hearing aid that amplifies the sounds from the outside world can help you block out the internal tinnitus sounds. Hearing aids today are much more advanced than a few years ago and many fit inside the ear canal. They are so small that only you know they are there.

Music Therapy for Tinnitus

Various methods of using music and noise, played through headphones, to try to treat tinnitus have been tried in the past with mixed success. However, recently, some German researchers have started to get good results using a new technique. Instead of just using any music, they made the music therapy very individually tailored to each patient. After first finding out the frequency of the sounds experienced as tinnitus in each patient, the researchers adapted each patient's favourite music digitally, to remove all the sounds at the frequencies of the tinnitus.

The theory behind this is to remove all sounds to set off the signals in the brain in response to these frequencies of sound to try to 'calm' the brain and to reduce the tinnitus experienced. So far, it has been trialled in only a few patients but, after a year of listening to their own tailored, modified music for at least 12 hours each week for a year, they reported a significant drop in the impact their tinnitus had on their lives.

Music Therapy is Safe and Can be Used with Other Tinnitus Treatments

The advantage of the new method is that it can be used alongside relaxation therapies and even with hearing aids. It has no side effects (the music is at a safe loudness) and it is easy to manage. Listening to music you like has to be better than listening to hours of 'white noise'.

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