What's That Ringing in My Ears?

Using Music Therapy to Ease Tinnitus

  Image Courtesy of Science Photo Library

Everybody has experienced the annoying ringing sensation that is felt deep in our ears. This sensation is known as Tinnitus and it can be caused by a variety of factors. For many individuals the ringing eventually subsides, but for others the noise is consistent and can cause pain and even hearing loss. There are many treatment methods that are helpful in reducing the effects of Tinnitus. There are many sound therapies that have been found to lower the perceived burden of TInnitus, such as music therapy. 

Therefore, the overview of this article will include:

  • Definition of Tinnitus
  • Causes of Tinnitus
  • Celebrities affected by Tinnitus
  • Music Therapy as a treatment option

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus: Ringing in the Ears or Something More?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. Tinnitus can present in sounds other than the traditional ringing most experience. Tinnitus can be perceived as other sounds such as buzzing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking. These sounds may seem as if they are in one ear, both ears, inside your head, or from a distance. Millions of Americans experience Tinnitus, making it one of the most common conditions in the country. There are generally two types of Tinnitus.

  • Subjective Tinnitus - This type of Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound in the absence of outside stimulus. The sound produced by the Tinnitus can only be heard by the patient. Subjective Tinnitus is the most common type. 
  • Objective Tinnitus - This type of Tinnitus is very uncommon and results in noises that can be heard by others. Objective Tinnitus is normally caused by internal functions such as the body’s circulatory and somatic systems. This is only seen in less than 1% of all Tinnitus cases and is seemingly very rare.

Sound Waves and Tinnitus

The human ear is essentially a vibration sensor that is extremely sensitive to sounds. The ear can detect sounds in a measurement called Hertz (Hz). The detection range for sounds starts at 20 Hz which is an extremely low frequency and can go all the way up to 20,000 Hz which is an extremely high frequency. The human ear is most sensitive to the speaking range which is between 500 Hz and 5,000 Hz. The ear can be damaged by exposure to excessive noise and can result in frequency loss. This means that some people may not be able to hear extremely low or high frequencies.  This hearing loss is directly related to Tinnitus meaning that in regions of the auditory cortex that have been damaged can change the receptive field and can develop enhanced spontaneous activities, or Tinnitus. 

Sound Waves travel through auditory pathways in the ear canal. These waves will travel directly over hair cells in the Cochlea. The Cochlea is responsible for transforming the vibrations of sound into a neural signal allowing sound to be heard. When these hair cells are damaged, the brain will not receive the appropriate signals to replicate sound. Instead, abnormal activity is therefore stimulated causing the illusion of sound in divergent frequencies. This illusion of sound is in fact Tinnitus. 

The diagram depicts the flow of sound over damaged hair cells which in turn is sent as neural signals to the auditory cortex of the brain. Image courtesy of Harvard Medical School.

Leading Causes of Tinnitus

Aging, Loud Noise, Head Injuries, and Other Causes

There are a number of health conditions and other factors that can cause hearing loss and Tinnitus. In most cases, an exact cause can never be directly pinpointed. Some common causes of Tinnitus include:

  • Aging - It is a known fact that our hearing worsens as the aging process develops. This age related hearing loss can cause Tinnitus. 
  • Exposure to Loud Noises - Loud noises such as those from heavy machinery, firearms, construction, etc., are common sources for Tinnitus. Music players such as iPods can cause permanent hearing loss resulting in Tinnitus if played too loudly for an extended period of time. Tinnitus can be caused by short term exposure to loud noises such as attending a concert. This short term exposure causing Tinnitus usually goes away, but both long term and short term exposure to loud noises can cause permanent damage.
  • Earwax - A build-up of earwax can block the ear canal which results in hearing loss. This build-up can cause irritation to the eardrum resulting in Tinnitus.
  • Head or Neck Injuries - Head and neck trauma cause damage to the inner ear which can cause harm to nerves and brain function. These types of injuries usually only cause Tinnitus in one ear. 
  • Blood Vessel Disorders (Pulsatile Tinnitus) - High blood pressure can cause hypertension which can be worsened by caffeine, stress, and alcohol. This can cause Tinnitus. A malformation of capillaries causes abnormal connections between arteries and veins. This can also result in Tinnitus.

Celebrities Are More Normal Than You Might Think

Some Celebrities who Suffer from Tinnitus

Celebrities are idolized by the media and news outlets and are made to seem untouchable. Everybody forgets that celebrities are normal people who suffer from different disorders and conditions just like you and I. Tinnitus is very common among many musicians and actors. Here is a list of testimonials from a few well-known musicians and actors.

  • Ozzy Osbourne - Legendary musician and longtime frontman for the band Black Sabbath explains his Tinnitus to the Hearing Health Foundation as the following :
  • “I suffer from permanent tinnitus . . . which means I’ve got this constant ringing in my ears, which has also made me somewhat deaf (or ‘conveniently deaf,’ as Sharon calls it). It’s like this ‘whee!’ noise in my head all the time. Should have worn earplugs, I guess.”
  • Eric Clapton - Three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee also explains his Tinnitus to the Hearing Health Foundation as: 
  • “I started using Fender Deluxe Reverb amps and 50-watt Marshalls around ’97, after I started having some problems with tinnitus. It was my own doing—being irresponsible and thinking I was invincible.”
  • William Shatner - A cultural icon who is not only an actor but also a producer, singer, director, screenwriter, and author. He too talks to Hearing Health Foundation
  • “There were days when I didn’t know whether I would survive, I was so tormented by the screeching in my head.”

Ozzy Osbourne is known as a legend in the music business. In the 1970s he gained prominence as the lead vocalist for Black Sabbath where he coined the name for himself ‘Prince of Darkness’. Osbourne is one of many musicians who suffers from permanent Tinnitus. Image courtesy of Biography.com

Tinnitus Mended by Music Therapy

What You Need to Know About Tinnitus and Music Therapy

In the United States alone, over 50 million people suffer from Tinnitus. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Tinnitus, but there are many ways to manage the symptoms. Ironically, one enjoyable way to alleviate Tinnitus is Music Therapy. There has been a new development with regards to music therapy treatment for Tinnitus. A new idea is to digitally remove a strip of sound from a piece of music. This strip of sound would be the frequency of the Tinnitus. The music would then be played discluding the strip of sound representing the Tinnitus frequency. By repeating this process, eventually the loudness and annoyance of Tinnitus is greatly reduced. 

Image courtesy of Cubex

Music promotes relaxation and promotes the emotional center of the brain. Music can help manage symptoms of Tinnitus. Incadence uses music therapy in a personalized way to fit individual needs. At Incadence, your beliefs, values, and priorities are all taken into account when meeting your specific needs. If you struggle with Tinnitus or any other disorder, be sure to check out Incadence, where they heal the world through music.  

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Haley Wisniewski
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