Humans have known about tinnitus for centuries and its symptoms have been documented in diaries and journals throughout time. Still, little is understood about the condition.
The use of sound therapy was first introduced as a form of distraction from the phantom noise within the ears. In 1903, a physician named Spaulding used a piano to match the frequency of his patient’s tinnitus. He then played a similar frequency at an increasing volume until the tinnitus became inaudible.
A portable machine known as a tinnitus masker was introduced by Jones and Knudsen in the 1920s. Then in 1977, Vernon designed hearing-aid like devices which could produce a noise in the ear to mask the tinnitus sound.
Sound enrichment or the theory of ‘habituation of the disordered auditory system’ was introduced by Jastreboff and McKinney. The method uses low-level sounds to control an individual’s tinnitus. It is thought low-level white noise dampens down the sound rather than masking it. A further benefit was that the white noise could stimulate the central auditory system to compensate for the loss of cochlear stimulation in patients with hearing loss. Ultimately, this prevents the loss of hearing which may cause tinnitus.
So, what is sound therapy? In short, sound therapy stimulates the ear using constant sounds. The aim is to reduce your hypersensitivity to your tinnitus in quiet surroundings. White noise, neutral sound or music is played at a low intensity using sound generators to reduce the perception of the tinnitus rather than mask it completely.
Types of Sound Therapy
Tinnitus can be caused by a number of things. Many treatments have been developed to try to control the symptoms. Alongside the use of cognitive behavioural therapy and medical interventions, the use of sound therapy is also becoming popular.
Although the term ‘sound generator’ sounds fancy, it’s not. A sound generator can be something like a CD player, radio, smartphone app or a table-top or wearable device.
Some emerging sound therapy techniques include:
Acoustic Coordinated Reset Neuromodulation (ACRN)
This type of therapy was first established for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers found over active brain activity in people with Parkinson’s and tinnitus. So, acoustic coordinated reset neuromodulation was introduced as a non-invasive treatment method.
ACRN aims to make long-term changes to the brain activity patterns which cause tinnitus. The treatment usually takes a few weeks to work, but has been shown to be effective in up to 70% of people. The targeted tones are personalised to the individual’s tinnitus profile and are adjusted throughout the therapy period.
Serenade is a handheld device which produces unique tones to mask the sound of tinnitus. The sounds, low-frequency modulated tones, are customised according to the patient’s level of tinnitus and provide temporary relief when the Serenade device is in use.
Frequency Discrimination Training
Frequency discrimination training is another form of auditory perceptual training. It uses sound enrichment to alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus. Many studies have shown this treatment is beneficial. In most cases, single-frequency tones are used in the region of hearing loss.
Neuromonics uses a small Oasis™ medical device with headphones to deliver spectrally modified music. This is embedded with an acoustic neutral stimulus to compensate for hearing loss.
According to the company website, the treatment process can be completed in 5 easy steps: patient assessment, fitting of the device, 2 stages of treatment and maintenance. The company claim that the treatment method has an 83% success rate and has been clinically proven to help with tinnitus symptoms.
Neuromonics with Oasis helps to treat the causes of tinnitus and trains the brain to overcome the damage caused to the hearing system. The device is customised for you according to your prescription. An audiologist will assess your needs before fitting the device and will talk through how to use it and the benefits it could bring.
The device is usually worn at first for 2 hours everyday for 2 months. After this, it is worn for 2 hours everyday for 4 months. This process should help to calm the symptoms and teach your brain to make new connections and filter out the sound.
Overall, sound therapy devices distract the individual from the irritating sound they can hear. Results have shown that sound therapy is reasonably successful for the treatment and management of tinnitus. Plus, it can improve the sufferer’s quality of life.