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How sound therapy can help tinnitus

Sound enrichment also known as sound therapy, can be provided by:

  • environmental sound (such as having a window open)
  • a CD or mp3 download or the radio
  • a smartphone App
  • bedside/table-top sound generators
  • a wearable sound generator

Many of which provide natural sounds, ‘white noise’ or gentle music. There are also hearing aids with supplementary tones and sounds delivered with the amplification. 

The type of sound enrichment suitable for you depends on your personal needs and your preferences. Most people prefer a sound that doesn’t demand too much attention and is not unpleasant to listen to.

Environmental sound

Many people find that some background sounds, for example, distant traffic, the noise of a busy office, wind in the trees, or waves breaking on the seashore make tinnitus less noticeable. At times, just opening a window may provide all the sound enrichment you need. Other alternatives could be a fan in the bedroom or a ticking clock.

CDs and downloads

There are a number of CDs of relaxing music and nature sounds available from various sources. Many local libraries have some available for loan, so you can try a few out. 

A wide range of nature sounds can also be downloaded from various websites to be played on mp3 players, other portable devices and mobile phones and many of these are free.

Bedside/table-top sound generators

These portable machines sit on the bedside/table-top and provide a choice of soothing sounds at the touch of a button. You can adjust the volume to suit your hearing. There is also a timer on them to switch off once you are asleep. Most can be run from either the mains or battery power.

At night

Having a pleasant, relaxing sound to listen to can help at night if you are having difficulty getting to sleep. If left on at a low volume all night, sound enrichment also provides a soothing distraction from tinnitus if you wake up in the early hours, when your surroundings are otherwise quiet or if your tinnitus is noticeable first thing in the morning.

Some sound generators and most CD players and mp3 players can be plugged into a pillow speaker or sound pillow, making the sound less audible to partners. However, many people without tinnitus also enjoy listening to soothing sounds at night.

Wearable sound generators

Wearable sound generators are also known as white noise generators and used to be known as maskers.Wearable sound generators produce a constant white noise, which is a gentle rushing sound similar to a radio tuned off-station (static).

Wearable sound generators are an optional part of tinnitus therapy, and should always be fitted by a tinnitus specialist as part of a tinnitus management programme. They look like small hearing aids and can be worn in the ear, or behind the ear. The behind the ear sound generators are generally preferred, as they do not block the ear. It is very important that when you wear them you do not feel that the sound generator fitting blocks your hearing.

Hearing aids

If you have hearing loss – even a very mild one – and you strain to hear, hearing aids are likely to help you. They provide a form of sound enrichment through giving you easier access to everyday environmental sound. Most people find they hear their tinnitus less when their hearing aids are switched on.

Hearing aids can be used in conjunction with sound therapy provided by CDs, audio docking stations or bedside/table-top sound generators.

How to use sound enrichment

The aim of tinnitus therapy is to enable people to adapt to their tinnitus so that it is ‘filtered out’ most of the time by the brain, even though it may still be present.

This os probably best achieved if you use sound enrichment at a level that is a little quieter than your tinnitus most of the time. Some people have used masking (loud noise which drowns out the tinnitus) to give themselves a bit of relief, but this approach does nothing to encourage long-term habituation, and sometimes the tinnitus appears louder when the masking is switched off.

Will I need to use sound enrichment forever?

Most people find that sound enrichment is useful whilst their tinnitus is intrusive but becomes less necessary as they habituate to their tinnitus. People who use wearable sound generators usually use them only until they feel they can manage their tinnitus better, and bedside sound generators may no longer be necessary once a better sleeping pattern has been established.

How do I get sound enrichment?

There are many ways in which you can find products which provide sound enrichment. Be creative in your search to find something you feel comfortable and relaxed with, exploring free or cheaper options first. We also have a carefully selected range of suitable products.

Wearable sound generators and bedside sound generators may be provided by your Audiology or ENT Clinic as part of an individualized tinnitus programme.

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