Headphones — White Noise Generators and Tinnitus

Discussion in 'Support' started by Michael Leigh, Nov 22, 2015.

tinnitus forum
    1. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      Headphones and Tinnitus.

      The views on whether a person with tinnitus should listen to music through headphones are controversial. Some people show no adverse affects while others do even when the volume level is kept low.
      We are all different so the only way a one can know is to experiment for themselves if they want to. In my opinion, when the tinnitus was caused by exposure to loud noise/music and it has become intrusive - by this I mean a person having to seek help at ENT, then they shouldn’t listen to music through headphones no matter how low the volume is set.

      Most music has syncopation throughout its frequency range, so it’s constantly changing in pitch, rhythm and timbre. The beat of the music and volume can also change while listening. This evokes pleasure and can stir our emotions. This happens whether we listen to music loud or soft, although certain types of music does sound better played at a higher volume than others, and vice versa.

      Once the Cochlear in the inner ear becomes damaged by noise exposure, it is much more sensitive to sound. This is one of the reasons hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound) is often experienced with noise-induced tinnitus. The wearing of WNGs (white noise generators) as part of TRT treatment can often cure the condition. I have covered Hyperacusis and Habituation in a post further down in the forum.

      The organ of the Corti, which is attached to the Cochlear, has approximately 20,000 hair
      cells. These hair cells move to the vibration of sound and are just one of the components in the auditory system that enable us to hear. Someone that already has a sensitive auditory system due to noise-induced tinnitus and listens to music through headphones at a low volume, risks irritating the Cochlear further; this can make the tinnitus louder and more intrusive.

      In my opinion, it can be misleading when some health professionals tell tinnitus patients, listening to music through headphones is fine as long as long as the volume is kept low. These health professionals mean well and know a lot about the anatomy of the ear and therefore, it is not my intention to try and undermine their abilities or expertise. However, It must be said, that many of them have never experienced intrusive tinnitus. This leads me to say, one of my ENT consultant’s who is an Audiovestubular consultant, and someone that I have a lot of respect for, once told me that I know more about tinnitus than she/he. This person explained, for the simple reason they had never experienced it.

      I have spoken to people and corresponded with them by email and at Internet forums, complaining their tinnitus has become worse after listening to music through headphones even though the volume was kept low. My advice to anyone that has tinnitus that was caused by exposure to loud noise is not to listen to music through headphones, as the auditory system is more sensitive.

      White noise generators.
      Some may question the use white noise generators and in-ear types that emit white noise directly into the ear. White noise generators don’t usually irritate the auditory system due to the volume being kept low and its frequency range remains constant, so there is no syncopation within it unlike music.

      Although white noise generators can be bought privately to treat tinnitus I don’t advise anyone to do so, unless a Hearing Therapist/Audiologist has first tested their auditory system for suitability. A person must also be shown how to use these devices correctly, as improper use can make the tinnitus worse. Furthermore, they are normally used in conjunction with Tinnitus Retraining Therapy to get maximum benefit.

      Michael

      PS. I also don't advise listening to white noise, pink noise, brown, noise etc through headphones even at low volume. It is best to always be under the care of an ENT clinic /Hearing Therapist.
       
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    2. SoulStation
      No Mood

      SoulStation Member Ambassador Team Tech

      Location:
      New York
      Tinnitus Since:
      2012
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Noise / Possible Medication
      How is this any different then listening with WNG (other than the fact the WNG let you hear external sounds as well which IMO just adds to the amount of overall sound your ear is exposed to)? Do you have any hard evidence that frequency variation/syncopation can make things worse? Please post any evidence if you could.
       
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    3. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      I have had tinnitus for 20 years and the best advice that I can give you is to not listen to audio through headphones and only use white noise under the care of an ENT specialist/hearing therapist. The ear is a very delicate organ, the last thing you want to do is mess around with it. If you haven't read my article An Introduction to tinnitus, further down in the forum then I suggest that you do.
       
    4. Atlantis

      Atlantis Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      02/2014
      I'm worried @Michael Leigh is, regarding the advice on headphone listening, providing misinformation.

      Scientifically our hearing cannot differentiate between white noise generated by white noise generators and regular music. It's impossible. It's sound pressure caused by sound waves.

      My hope is people here wouldn't stop listening to their favorite music because of this misinformation and fearmongering. Music keeps our spirits up.
       
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    5. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      I am a HI-FI enthusiast with a very highend system. I enjoy my music to the fullest. Carry on do as you wish it's entirely your choice and I wish you well.
      Michael
       
    6. Telis

      Telis Member Hall of Fame

      Location:
      Calgary
      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2013
      Do have any evidence or even a theory behind why keeping the frequency range constant (white noise) is any better than alternating frequencies like in music? It's strange to state things and have absolutely no reasoning attached. Can you tell me why you think this?
       
    7. linearb
      Psychedelic

      linearb Member Hall of Fame

      Location:
      East Coast USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      1998
      I have also had tinnitus for around 20 years, and have used headphones reasonably for that entire length of time without any issues. To each their own; I'm just contributing my personal anecdote to the bucket.

      As for corresponding with people online, I have also had a few people tell me that headphones are a problem for them... but I've heard the same thing about salt, EMFs, lunar phases, high pressure systems, sunlight, lack of sunlight, and reading too many novels.
       
    8. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      My post clearly states that the views on Headphone use are controversial. Some people are adversely affected when using them while others aren't okay....Lets hope we can all put the toys back in the pram and move on..
       
    9. Telis

      Telis Member Hall of Fame

      Location:
      Calgary
      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2013
      why won't you answer the question? You have brought forth my curiosity, now you won't expand on it. Why is noise that doesn't have fluctuations in frequency like white noise a better choice??? You have stated it was, now I'm just asking why? If you are going to write a book and be this "expert" you cant just make statements and give opinions with no reasoning behind them.

      Anyone else have any views on white noise vs music? Is one better for the auditory system than the other? I thought that because music was more dynamic in nature, it would be the way to go vs sometime standing still across the frequency spectrum.

      I am very curious about this because I find that white noise irritates my ears in a serious way, music or
      changing nature sounds seems to be way better for me personally for some reason.

      The poster obviously doesn't understand why he thinks white noise is a better choice, maybe someone else with some actual knowledge (not just random opinions) could weigh in here.
       
    10. Sound Wave
      Curious

      Sound Wave Member Benefactor Team Tech

      Location:
      Finland
      Tinnitus Since:
      12/2013
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Probably headphones
      Headphone use is NOT controversial - it is just one member's opinion. Please provide scientific research if it exists.
       
    11. Koen

      Koen Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2015
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud headset usage , hi freq
      @Michael Leigh why is it according to you not possible to listen to headphones on low volume? Do you think the sound comes in too pure and dynamic and that any half broken haircell still alive is not flexible enough to cope with that? How about after half a year, any clue?
       
    12. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      Hi Koen. In my post I haven't said that it's not possible to use headphones at low volume.
      My advice to anyone that has had loud intrusive tinnitus, is, to Never listen to music through headphones even at low volume.
       
    13. Koen

      Koen Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2015
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud headset usage , hi freq
      But why, can you explain why you think this is a bad idea?
      Do you have the same opinion about in ear monitors?
       
    14. Chadly

      Chadly Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      09/2015
      Hi,
      I'm new to the forum and have been living with tinnitus for a few months now. This thread caught my eye because I am a practicing electronics engineer and have some experience with noise spectra. I find the question of using white noise interesting, but I'm skeptical of its therapeutic use in my case. It occurred to me that if I had a pure tone generator, I could experimentially 'search' for the frequencies at which my tinnitus occurs (which, in my case, seem to be somewhere north of 12kHz, but modulate within a narrow band) and cancel it by applying equal magnitude tones 180 degrees out of phase with my tinnitus (probably easier said than done since my tinnitus seems to have some correlation to body rythms). Since my tinnitus qualitatively seems to be restricted to a finite frequency range I'm skeptical that white noise would help... it may actually be detremential. By definition, white noise has equal power in equal bandwidths across the entire frequency range with random phase. If anything, the white noise overlapping the bandwidth of my perceived tinnitus would 'add to' rather than 'subtract from' it because of uncorrelated phase components. Haven't experimented with this yet, nor have I read any papers on the subject; this is just an educated guess.
       
    15. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      Please read the text koen. The reason why I do not recommend anyone that has had Intrusive tinnitus, to listen to music through headphones even at low volume is because: Music goes up and down this is called: (Synocopation) Once someone has intrusive tinnitus, the ear is More sensitive. It is up to you if you want to listen to music through headphones at low volume. Just remember, if your tinnitus gets worse you are the one that will be suffering. Michael
       
    16. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      @Chadly . I advise you not to experiment with playing any sort of noise into your ears. Whether it's: white noise, brown noise, purple noise or even audio. The only white noise that I recommend is through: White noise generators. These has been specifically designed for people with tinnitus and should be used under the guidance of a trained Hearing Therapist or Audiologist. You are putting yourself at risk of making your tinnitus worse if you experiment playing audio into your ears. Please look on the Forum, someone tried to perform DIY (do-it-yourself) neuromodulation and has made his tinnitus much worse! For your own safety be careful and see ENT if you need help. Michael
       
    17. Koen

      Koen Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2015
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud headset usage , hi freq
      But Michael, by this logic of rithm in music. This means that also without a headset, so on normal speakers, any music would be harmful. Unless you would try to explain why a headset is different. So I still don't get it yet. Unless off course you'd say a headset is always 'stronger' than a hifi system at the same perceived loudness.
       
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    18. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      @Koen Headphone speakers are very close to the ear. In my opinion, even when the sound is turned down low it is still possible to make the tinnitus worse. As I said, this is my opinion. Not everyone will be affected but, I would rather not take the risk. I have spoken to many people that have tinnitus, and used headphones at low volume and it has made their tinnitus worse.

      There are also other people with tinnitus that use headphones and it doesn't make their tinnitus worse. It is up to you if you want to use headphones. As I said, if your tinnitus becomes worse then you are the one that will suffer nobody else. Some Doctors tell tinnitus patients that it's okay to use headphones providing the volume is kept low. Many of these doctors have never experienced "intrusive tinnitus" so they have no experience of what tinnitus can do to a person.
      The choice is yours
      Hope this helps
      Michael
       
    19. dboy
      Jaded

      dboy Member Benefactor

      Location:
      UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      1/2007 & 8/2013
      Just as a matter of information, I believe syncopation refers to something a little more complicated than this. From Wikipedia:

      In music, syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected which make part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. More simply, syncopation is a general term for "a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm": a "placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur."

      So it seems that a lot of music does not involve syncopation. Rather, syncopation is a characteristic of some pieces of music, and is unlikely to be a characteristic that could be damaging to the ears. Any musicians please set me straight if I've got this wrong (I used to play drums very badly, but have forgotten most of the theory).

      I suspect Michael is advising against listening to any form of music on headphones, rather than just music that involves syncopation. I'm not disagreeing with him about this. I personally do not feel very comfortable using headphones although I've never had a negative experience from doing so. Bearing in mind the lack of evidence however, we need to accept that (as Michael says) this is only one person's opinion. It might also be relevant to consider that this opinion might possibly have some kind of relation to Michael's own tinnitus being caused by headphones:

      Speaking more generally having read through this thread, I think problems arise from the presentation of personal opinions as though they are official/authoritative pronouncements. Michael does clearly state that his opinions are only opinions - but something about the way that they are stated, or the "article" format that they are presented in, leads to confusion. The "article" format is the sort of format in which we usually see an "expert" opinion, so there is a degree of incongruence when we read it and see personal opinions that are unsupported by evidence and perhaps coloured by prejudice or errors. (Academic articles, for example, will usually be read through by several other academics knowledgeable in the field who will give feedback. Even magazines have editors.)

      I think we need to remember that this is a public forum where anyone can state her/his opinion, but where we are stronger if we are open to dialogue and accepting the knowledge and viewpoints of others. I think a thread like this could be a great way to pool our experiences and knowledge about headphone use. That is compromised to some extent if one person owns it and is uncomfortable with discussion or the expression of other points of view. But it doesn't have to be that way.

      As always this is... just my opinion. ;)



       
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    20. PaulBe

      PaulBe Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Cairns
      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2013
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Probably sound, though never proven
      Well maybe syncopation wasn't the best choice of word, but I get the idea that music has its rises and falls, its crescendos, sudden drop-offs, and all those things that engage the brain in a way that constant white-noise (and its colour variants) don't. For the brain to become engaged many structures have to work in synchrony including the middle ear muscles, ossicles, hair cells, nerve pathways, processing centres etc. All in all its quite a physiological work-out as relaxing pass-times go. Given that nearly all of us don't really have certainty of the extent or likely even the location of where our damage lies, then Michael probably has a point that for some of us headphones are just not good, and I suspect that those people would soon know it themselves without needing anyone to tell them.
       
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    21. dboy
      Jaded

      dboy Member Benefactor

      Location:
      UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      1/2007 & 8/2013
      I agree that music will engage the brain more than white noise (so music would probably be less suitable for sleeping), but am unsure about the rises and falls, etc, being worse for your ears. I'd have thought that constant noise was worse for your ears than sound that ebbs and flows as natural sounds do, and that only contains each frequency occasionally rather than constantly. But I would imagine volume to be the most relevant factor, and this is only speculation anyway.
      I think you are right. We all need to take good care of our ears, and caution is better than regret in my book. (y)
       
    22. Telis

      Telis Member Hall of Fame

      Location:
      Calgary
      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2013
      I still don't understand what makes headphones dangerous vs other sounds. Standing in a room with a steady 60db measured at the ear vs 60db on headphones is surely the same thing. What's the difference ? There isn't one!
       
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    23. PaulBe

      PaulBe Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Cairns
      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2013
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Probably sound, though never proven
      Personally, I still use them on occasion, but I do sometimes notice that even at low volumes the T will suddenly ratchet up and may stay there for a day or so, bringing H along for the ride. Sometimes though, it just ratchets up anyway, music or not. Can't really answer your statement. So often there is no rhyme or reason to any of this.
       
    24. PaulBe

      PaulBe Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Cairns
      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2013
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Probably sound, though never proven
      Kept thinking about the question your statement posed Telis. An answer of sorts came to me while I was just in the kitchen. What do you think of this?

      Proximity is probably the best answer, and, if you think about it, its what has probably put a lot of us here in this forum. Sound arrives, like light or heat, to our sensory organs in the form of energy. The process of hearing sound is largely a mechanical one up to the inner ear, after which it gets a bit chemical/electrical. There is no sound if our brain doesn't perceive it, so what comes in enters as energy, moves structures, creates a vibration and then the chemical/electrical bit starts. OK, we all know that I'm sure. While reaching the outer ear, sound energy in the natural environment has some chance to be absorbed elsewhere, dissipate...whatever energy does before it arrives in our sensing systems, so we don't get the whole lot. Headphones take that out, placing you right next to the sound, so you get (almost) the lot. One of the joys of headphone music I always found was the clarity of percussion, the very thing that dissipates when headphones aren't worn. That I think is the difference: proximity. Its like heat or light. The closer you are to the source the more likely you will sustain an injury of some sort. If you've already sustained the injury at some point, then its hard to know at what point your threshold for added injury starts. For us I think we have to experiment a bit to find out where that threshold is, or indeed if it even exists. Its a bit like the guy who has the heart attack, trying to work out where his exercise tolerance now sits within his new reality, and how much he can grow it within the limits he now has.
       
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    25. Sound Wave
      Curious

      Sound Wave Member Benefactor Team Tech

      Location:
      Finland
      Tinnitus Since:
      12/2013
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Probably headphones
      This is a silly conversation, no offense. Sound we hear is changes in air pressure and it does not matter whether it comes from a headphone speaker, normal speaker or whatever.
       
    26. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      @Telis

      Telis,
      I used to be a tinnitus support contact for a well known tinnitus organisation and corresponded with many people over three years by telephone, email and internet forum. Apart from stress, and age related hearing loss. Toping the list for tinnitus complaints were people that listened to music through headphones, attended venues where loud music was played and those that worked in call centres and wore headsets for long durations.

      As I said in my original post we are all different. Some people with tinnitus show no adverse affects when listening to music through headphones while others do. Atlantis said music keeps our spirits up and I fully agree. I enjoy my music listening through speakers on my HI-FI but will never return to using headphones.

      I agree with PaulBe’s analysis and believe It’s to do with Proximity.

      My tinnitus and hyperacusis used to be so severe I don’t ever want to go there again. If I were to slip those headphones over my head, each time I’d be thinking to myself those famous words we know so well: Do I feel lucky?
      Michael
       
    27. glynis-harbron
      Feminine

      glynis-harbron Member Benefactor Hall of Fame Ambassador Team Awareness Team Research

      Location:
      England, Stoke-on-Trent
      Tinnitus Since:
      2004
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Meniere's Disease
      Like Michael,
      I was BTA tinnitus support contact and spoke to many people on the phone.


      Headphones and earphones came up a lot and some asking if its ok to use them and some whos tinnitus became worse using them.
      We are all different in how we got tinnitus and we all can react differently with head phones and earphones.


      I can use them with no problem but my tinnitius is not noise related .


      Recently I spoke face to face with one of the audiologists from stoke on trent to have a audiologists view on the matter as the question comes up a lot and she has intrusive tinnitus .
      she said its ok to use them set at the lowest setting possible if you have tinnitus and see how you go with them and if your tinnitus is troublesome using them its up to you what to do then with them.


      For people whos tinnitus was due to headphones or earphones or reactive tinnitus or have hyperacusis then it might be best leave them alone for a while or avoid using them.

      Also it depends how you are coping emotionally with tinnitus and your reaction using head phones and ear phones.

      I can not advise against them as I use them set very low but anyone with tinnitus must remember their can be consequences if you have tinnitus using headphones or earphones on high.

      Lots of love glynis
       
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    28. Sound Wave
      Curious

      Sound Wave Member Benefactor Team Tech

      Location:
      Finland
      Tinnitus Since:
      12/2013
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Probably headphones
      Proximity in itself means nothing. The volume is the only thing that counts, which decreases with distance. This is basic physics and subjective arguments and beliefs are worthless.

      Here are the actual equations if you want to have a look: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_pressure#Sound_pressure_level
       
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    29. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      @Sound Wave Thanks for the information which is very informative. I still believe PaulB's analysis to be correct.
      All the best
      Michael
       
    30. PaulBe

      PaulBe Member Benefactor

      Location:
      Cairns
      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2013
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Probably sound, though never proven
      Sounds a bit like proximity to me.
       
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