Can White Noise Machines Cause Tinnitus- Best Guide

Can White Noise Machines Cause Tinnitus?

Can White Noise Machines Cause Tinnitus is the question many patients with tinnitus ask their doctors? While more scientific research is needed to directly link the two, there’s no way around the fact that certain types of noise may make the symptoms of tinnitus worse in some individuals. But latest study contradicts it.

White noise is not a cure for tinnitus, but it can help reduce the perception of unusual sounds and provide a more soothing environment. White noise machines for adults are also relatively low cost and can be easily purchased online, at electronics stores, or in drugstores.

White noise generators create random sounds that can mask tinnitus symptoms and help to reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and even physical pain.

The American Tinnitus Association also recommends the use of a noise generator for the treatment of tinnitus.

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What is Tinnitus?

The term “tinnitus” refers to a ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, or other noise that seems to originate in the ear.

Tinnitus is an internal perception of sound. These are neurological symptoms and most commonly auditory signals that are not generated by the cochlea, but rather originate in the central auditory pathways. Tinnitus patients may benefit from using external noise over listening to the sounds inside their heads.

Tinnitus is estimated to affect one in every five people. It is most commonly caused by age-related hearing loss, ear injury, head injury, dental procedures, cardiovascular disease, poor blood circulation, or even certain medication.

People who are afflicted with tinnitus (an internal sound that other people cannot hear) can, in most cases, use real, external noise to counteract their perception and reaction to this phantom sound.

Here we look at sound masking and white noise machines as possible tinnitus treatments.

White Noise: A Cure or Cause for Tinnitus

White noise is a type of sound generated by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. It was designed to be inoffensive, so it can be used as a comfortable background sound. The purpose of white noise is to mask other disruptive sounds.

White noise machines are designed to create a soothing background noise that masks the perception of tinnitus. The sounds of white noise machines include the sound of fan, rain, ocean waves, or the hiss of a waterfall.

How do sound therapies/white noise help in tinnitus?

Sound-based therapies/white noise are often a mainstay of treatment for tinnitus. These involve using one or a combination of three forms of external sound to help patients manage their perceptions and reactions to tinnitus

It is a treatment that alters a patient’s perception of and response to tinnitus. Sound therapists use various sound-based strategies, including masking, distraction, habituation, and neuromodulation.

1. Masking

Covering the tinnitus sounds with other external noise.

2. Distraction

Diverting the patient’s attention away from the tinnitus sounds.

3. Habituation

Changing how the brain interprets tinnitus by exposing it to different sounds at gradually increasing volumes.

4. Neuromodulation

Using specialized sound to retune certain neural circuits directly involved in the perception of tinnitus.

White noise has been proven to help mask sounds of tinnitus. While sounds of wind, rain, ocean waves, or even a fan all typically provide relief from tinnitus, white noise may just be the most effective. This is because there are no discernible patterns in white noise which, for individuals with auditory processing disorders (APD) like tinnitus patients, it helps to block out the sound of ringing in their ears.

What Studies Say

In 2015, a German study showed that white noise therapy is an effective treatment for tinnitus. It also found that white noise has “no general effect on cognitive functions”.

Nature study author, Professor Karl Kandler reported in his 2017 article that mice exposed to 45 mins loud noise for a week exhibited symptoms of tinnitus. After a week, all the mice had experienced hearing loss, and about half of them failed to detect silent gaps in background noise, a sign of tinnitus in animals. Afterward, white noise exposure at moderate intensity for another week caused a decrease in the proportion of mice with tinnitus symptoms from 51% to 12%.

Contrary to the above two researchers,  a new study suggests that exposure to high volume white noise, (unstructured noise) commonly used in devices designed to manage tinnitus, could actually worsen symptoms of the condition. The paper also notes that white noise devices might speed up the aging of the brain and increase cognitive decline.

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Can white noise make tinnitus worse in some people?

White noise can be beneficial in the treatment of tinnitus, but it may not be suitable for everyone. White noise machines are recommended for people with tinnitus that is mild to moderate.

Though white noise therapy has been used in research settings to treat tinnitus, a new study shows that it is not beneficial in the long term and can actually lead to worse symptoms.

However, Structured Sound Therapies are now being used to help people with tinnitus. Positive Sound Therapies is a collection of therapeutic uses of music, sound, and audio technologies designed structurally to promote wellness, manage pain and distress, and enhance the quality of life.

In positive sound therapy or structured noise, doctors use music that has been filtered to match the pitch of the tinnitus patient or has been notched, in order to replace the masking stimulus that tinnitus sufferers usually hear with a structured sound signal that will help support a healthy hearing system. It is somehow costly as it is personalized for each patient’s tinnitus symptoms.

How can I use white noise to treat tinnitus?

Structured white noise should be used in the treatment of tinnitus. For this, a white noise machine should be placed near the ear (ear level). It emits white noise that can help mask the ringing sounds. It is also used to help people relax and fall asleep more easily.

However, The American Tinnitus Association suggests that white noise machines should be used in conjunction with other treatments for tinnitus.

Final Thought

Tinnitus is a very common condition, affecting about 1 in 5 people at some point in their lives. It is characterized by a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears that are bothersome and often interfere with daily activities. There are a variety of treatments that can be used to treat tinnitus. However, some people may find that white noise therapy also helps tinnitus patients.  It is a type of sound therapy that uses a combination of sounds to mask the inner sounds of a tinnitus patient.

While white noise machines may be a viable treatment to some, their efficacy remains suspect among many experts. Furthermore, these machines could potentially exacerbate symptoms of tinnitus. Sound therapy deserves a more structured solution, one that relies on careful tuning to the frequency of brain activity.

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