Sound Enrichment and White Noise Generators for the Tinnitus Newbie

Discussion in 'Support' started by Michael Leigh, Oct 18, 2016.

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    1. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor Ambassador

      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      Sound enrichment and white noise generators for tinnitus newbies.

      Tinnitus is a common condition that many people are able to cope with when it is mild or moderate. On the other hand, it can also be a complex condition, because it comes in many different forms and intensities and no two people experience it the same.

      Many things can cause tinnitus: an underlining medical problem or a build up of earwax. Jaw problems and some medications. An irregular blood flow through the body causing pulsatile tinnitus. There are a plethora of other conditions that can be responsible. However, the most common cause is exposure to loud noise or music that has been played at high levels causing some damage to the cochlear in the inner ear.

      When a person is affected by loud noise exposure and develops tinnitus, it can become quite a problem and resembles nothing like the thing family and friends speak of who have learned to ignore it within a short space of time. If hyperaucusis (sensitivity to sound) is present it can make matters worse. In most cases a person will need to be referred to ENT for tests.

      Many newbies have difficulty coping with this and understandably they will feel under a lot of stress and anxiety. A GP can prescribe an antidepressant which can help prevent a person becoming too low. An alternative to prescription antidepressant is St John’s Wort, used to treat mild depression and is a natural herb. If you like this approach then speak to your doctor before taking. The more stressed a person becomes the louder and more intrusive the tinnitus will feel. The less stressed we are the quieter it will tend to be.

      Some people will try masking the tinnitus completely with another sound so that it can’t be heard but this isn’t a good idea. Tinnitus is quite resilient and any attempts to mask it completely are usually unsuccessful. As soon as the masking sound is removed or stopped temporarily, the brain will immediately focus back on it and often it will appear to be louder and more intrusive. This can cause more stress on top of what a person already has and it can make the tinnitus appear louder. A much better way and preferred method that Hearing Therapists advise tinnitus patients, is to use sound enrichment.

      One can use music or nature sounds from a sound machine and set the volume slightly below the tinnitus. By doing this, the brain over time will learn to not see the tinnitus as a threat and gradually push the noise further into the background giving it less importance, which is called habituation. Unless the brain can hear the tinnitus slightly above the sound enrichment it will not be able to habituate to the tinnitus.

      A word about tinnitus maskers or to give them their proper name: white noise generators, because tinnitus shouldn’t be totally masked. Two types are available. In-ear, which are small and discreet and bullet shaped, or BTE (behind the ear) that closely resembles a hearing aid. They both do the same thing, although some BTE types now offer more than just white noise and can deliver multiple tones that are selectable.

      Some people new to tinnitus want to buy white noise generators to help cope with the condition but I advise against this: Within the first six months of having the condition it is considered very early days and many people learn to habituate within this time using things such as sound enrichment during the day and at night. In some cases the tinnitus can go away. As already mentioned, tinnitus can make a person feel under a lot of stress and anxiety in the early stages. Getting used to this new intrusion in one’s life takes time. Adding white noise or any other sound so close into the ear can make this process more difficult.

      It is one of the reasons many ENT Drs tell their tinnitus patients to leave things alone for a while, when their hearing test and MRI scan show no abnormalities. If a person is experiencing additional symptoms such as balance problems, pain in the ears or loss of hearing, is cause for concern and these will usually be looked into more closely.

      Even after six months of having tinnitus, I don’t recommend someone use white noise generators unless they are under the care of a Hearing Therapist and shown how to use the devices correctly and also be having tinnitus counseling which is known as TRT (tinnitus retraining therapy) Tinnitus counseling helps take away and demystifies a lot the negative thinking that many people new to tinnitus have. It is very important and shouldn’t be overlooked. Using white noise generators alone without counseling won’t achieve much.

      Tinnitus retraining therapy is expensive but is still considered one of the best treatments for tinnitus. A course lasts 12 to 24 months. A person will need to wear white noise generators for up to 10hrs a day and have regular counseling sessions with their hearing therapist. White noise generators will treat tinnitus and hyperacusis.

      Some people new to tinnitus naturally want to rid themselves of this unwanted intruder and will research everything about it and want to try different treatments in the hope of finding a cure. Whilst there’s nothing wrong in doing this, taking on such a task can often put a person under a lot more stress, which can make the condition more intense and difficult for them to cope with. Please also keep in mind, there are a lot of charlatans and con artists out there, ready to relieve someone of their money whose looking to cure their tinnitus.

      My advice is to try and take things easy and not to push too hard. If your ENT tests are normal but you’re finding it difficult to cope, have a word with your GP or ENT doctor about tinnitus counseling, as that is one of the most important things that can help you to manage the condition better and will help the habituation process. Talk to your doctor and explain how you feel. An anti depressant or sleeping draft can help you for a while.

      Use sound enrichment during the day and at night. Set the sound machine by your bedside or attached to a pillow speaker. Keep the volume slightly below the tinnitus and set to play throughout the night until morning. It is preferable to use nature sounds at night in preference to music, as they don’t draw the brain’s attention.


      PS: The brain and auditory system never turn off. Anyone that has intrusive tinnitus and sleeps in a quiet room, risks their tinnitus becoming louder and more intrusive. If the brain hears silence while in a deep sleep, it has the ability to increase its background activity, which will also increase the tinnitus making it louder more intrusive during waking hours.
      We are all different and some people prefer to sleep in a quiet room and that is perfectly fine.
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