The therapy was originally developed as a distraction for people who have tinnitus. Later, doctors began using low-level sounds as background noise to help manage the condition.
Background noise can be helpful in several ways:
- Masking can help cover up some of the sound in your ears.
- Distraction can take your attention off the sound.
- Habituation is the idea that hearing the noise consistently can lead your brain to treat tinnitus as a less important sound that should be ignored.
- Neuromodulation is based on the theory that tinnitus may be caused by too much activity in certain parts of your brain. So background noise could help change the patterns that cause the activity.
Sound therapy is most effective if it's combined with counseling and education about the condition.
How It Works
Special devices that make a quiet background noise can be put on a tabletop or nightstand or carried with you. If your tinnitus bothers you at night, you might put a media player, computer, or electric fan on a bedside table. If your symptoms are constant, you might use a smartphone app or wear a sound generator.
Some devices can be customized for your specific case of tinnitus. They play sounds at frequencies and tones tailored to your needs. Typically, you'll use one for a set amount of time each day, like before bed.
Hearing aids also are sometimes used in sound therapy. Standard hearing aids make sounds louder. That can mask the tinnitus or distract you from it. Or the hearing aid can be customized to make sounds.
The kind of device you use will depend on your specific symptoms. For example, if you're sensitive to noises like a running faucet or dishwasher that other people aren't (a condition known as hyperacusis), certain devices might not work well for you. Your doctor will help you find one that's right for your situation.
Kinds of Sounds
The devices can make different types of sound. Your doctor will recommend the one that's best for you:
- Broadband noise sounds like radio static. It includes different "colors" of noise, like white noise and pink noise, that have different frequencies (number of vibrations per second, also called pitch).
- Music can be relaxing and distracting for some people. Moderate-tempo, instrumental music is typically used for sound therapy.
- Modulated tones can sound like they're softly pulsing.
- Notched sounds stress certain frequencies or tones that can be customized to match your tinnitus symptoms.