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Music to the (ringing) ears: New therapy targets tinnitus

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tinnitus ringing music therapy treatmentLoud, persistent ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus, can be vexing for its millions of sufferers. This perceived noise can be symptomatic of many different ills—from earwax to aging—but the most common cause is from noise-induced hearing loss, such as extended exposure to construction or loud music, and treating many of its underlying neural causes has proven difficult.

But many people with tinnitus might soon be able to find refuge in the very indulgence that often started the ringing in the first place: music.

A new music-based therapy has shown promise in helping reduce the ringing’s volume in tinnitus sufferers within a year, according to a study published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Tinnitus loudness can be significantly diminished by an enjoyable, low-cost, custom-tailored notched music treatment," wrote the researchers, who were led in part by Christo Pantev at the Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosign Alanalysis at Westfalian Wilhelms-University in Munster, Germany. 

The treatment is based on behavioral training theories that posit that the auditory cortex, which is responsible for perceiving the sound and has been shown to be distorted in the areas where a specific frequency is "heard," might gradually be trained to reorganize, correcting for its maladaptive distortion.

In the small study, eight subjects with tinnitus listened to their music of choice that had been specially edited—or "notched"—to remove the frequency that corresponded to their tinnitus level. Another eight subjects with tinnitus listened to their preferred music that had random "placebo" frequencies removed, and another seven individuals with tinnitus received no treatment.

Those in the two music groups listened for an average of about 12.4 hours per week, and the individuals in the tinnitus-tuned section found that "tinnitus loudness was significantly reduced," the authors reported. The other two groups showed no change.

The researchers propose that the therapy might work by re-wiring parts of the auditory cortex that have become over-active to instead tune into surrounding—but different—tones. Another possibility is that with deprivation, these specially tuned auditory neurons would undergo "long-term depression," causing them to become less active overall.

The therapy might also get a boost from the simple pleasure of listening to good music. "Joyful listening to music activates the reward system of the brain and leads to release of dopamine, which plays an important role in cortical reorganization," noted the authors. Just so long as that music is at a reasonable volume, of course.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/nicolas_

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  1. 1. rikothenord 4:41 pm 12/28/2009

    As a tinnitus sufferer who also has hyperacusis – I wonder if this might help the hyperacusis as well??? I had tried TRT (Tinnitus Retraining Therapy) a few years ago but found no improvement. This sounds much more logical approach.

    It sounds like the research was limited to pre-modified music. I wonder if it would work with an active filter similar to noise-cancelling headphones which could be worn for longer periods of time and allow normal life during that cortical retraining time??? Or does it depend on music which is normally rich in those specific frequencies???

    Bravo. I’m eagerly looking forward to what comes of this research track. I would love to volunteer for a similar research project.

    Link to this
  2. 2. georgie 6:05 pm 12/28/2009

    I was a tinnitus sufferer for years (left ear). After many investigations both medical and personal, I found that soya milk was the culprit, and now that I don’t drink it, I don’t have a ringing ear!

    Link to this
  3. 3. ronflank 10:23 pm 12/28/2009

    I have tinnitus for about 3 to 4 yrs; my doctor eliminated my daily pill of ginko biloba, and it helped; but not completely.
    On the other hand, I love music, and it is really soothening; However the study mentione in the article above with only 23 people is not statiscally significant (wish it were!).

    Link to this
  4. 4. ronflank 10:26 pm 12/28/2009

    had tinnitus in the last four yrs; my MD gave me daily Ginko Biloba pills, and it helped, but didn’t solve the problem. Yes, music is soothening.
    But the article mentions a ‘new therapy’ . Heya, only 23 people were tested! C’mon, this is no science!

    Link to this
  5. 5. krabcat 11:35 pm 12/28/2009

    it may be statistically significant if 15/15 did not show an improvement but 8/8 did

    Link to this
  6. 6. [Cerebrl] 12:36 am 12/29/2009

    These studies are significant. They are called a start. Would you want your very first test with 1500 participants, or 23 and see if there is something to your hypothesis? The later would be smarter, the former a high risk for blowing a bunch of research capital.

    [Cerebrl]

    Link to this
  7. 7. Jennsyn 10:04 am 12/29/2009

    This is an easy thing for anybody to do. My question is how do you find out the frequency of your tinnitus?

    Link to this
  8. 8. Jennsyn 10:04 am 12/29/2009

    This is an easy and safe thing for anyone to try. My question is how do you find out the frequency of your tinnitus?

    Link to this
  9. 9. Judy 10:21 am 12/29/2009

    Have had ringing for many years as a result of an overseas air trip. Now I have digital hearing aids in each each as a result of subsequent hearing loss. How can this new therapy address the hearing loss+tinnitus problem?

    Link to this
  10. 10. tmaskell 1:38 pm 12/29/2009

    biomagnetism?? biosign analysis?? pseudo-science! It’s going to take alot more than 23 people to show this is a real affect.
    pphht!
    Tim

    Link to this
  11. 11. Sybil Phoebe 6:57 pm 12/29/2009

    I suffered with tinnitus for years until I began taking a German manufactured enzyme supplement, Wobenzym N and Garden of Life Fungal Defense. My problem seems to be related to food sensitivities and mold. I am noise free almost all of the time.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Sybil Phoebe 7:23 pm 12/29/2009

    I suffered for years until I began taking a German manufactured enzyme, Wobenzym N and Garden of Life Fungal Defense. My tinnitus is related to food sensitivities, mold and fungus.

    Link to this
  13. 13. nigwil 8:07 pm 12/29/2009

    My tinnitus was caused by artillery, rifle fire and a year or so as a boilerman. All 25 to 35 years ago. Constant, but not quite.

    I chart my T in 3D. I draw up a page like a view of a theater stage, and then I find I can show where the T is occurring. Sometimes its a curtain across the whole stage top to bottom full bore, other times like now a series of drapes hanging down from the ‘Gods’ some deep, others just right up against the ceiling. Today (just now) there is nothing near the floor. Othertimes its all down there.

    This gives me a way to ‘measure’ the ‘shape’ of the T. If there is a significant variation in the pitch/frequency or vibrato in a particular tone I annotate the particular element. Its interesting to look back over this record, but I haven’t found any particular correlation with cause/effect yet.

    Link to this
  14. 14. nigwil 8:08 pm 12/29/2009

    My tinnitus was caused by artillery, rifle fire and a year or so as a boilerman. All 25 to 35 years ago. Constant, but not quite.

    I chart my T in 3D. I draw up a page like a view of a theater stage, and then I find I can show where the T is occurring. Sometimes its a curtain across the whole stage top to bottom full bore, other times like now a series of drapes hanging down from the ‘Gods’ some deep, others just right up against the ceiling. Today (just now) there is nothing near the floor. Othertimes its all down there.

    This gives me a way to ‘measure’ the ‘shape’ of the T. If there is a significant variation in the pitch/frequency or vibrato in a particular tone I annotate the particular element. Its interesting to look back over this record, but I haven’t found any particular correlation with cause/effect yet.

    Link to this
  15. 15. Macrocompassion 9:41 am 12/31/2009

    To find the frequency, try playing differently pitched notes on a piano until you find the one (or range) that corresponds. Look up in table the frequency from the position of the key or note on the keyboard. I find that the sound emitted from a domestic refrigator is also close to my particular tinnintus, so I keep away when the motor is running.

    Link to this
  16. 16. bcsfeh 3:00 pm 12/31/2009

    To find out the frequency/frequencies of your tinnitus, ask your audiologist for a ‘tinnitus evaluation’.
    This procedure is similar to the standard hearing test, but more involved and detailed. It will also show at what db the sounds are and at what frequencies your hearing loss (if any) is.
    It’s not cheap and probably is not covered by most health plans. However, if your work is dependent on your hearing (ex; orchestral musician), and you present your case to the HMO, it might be covered.
    bcsf

    Link to this
  17. 17. cap 8:40 am 01/1/2010

    Interesting article I am suffering from tinnitus and central auditory processing disorder

    Link to this
  18. 18. MichaelLanghout 1:11 pm 01/1/2010

    Silere Medical Technology is developing an implantable prosthesis similar to a cochlear implant which delivers a therapeutic signal to the cochlea and suppressed the tinnitus. Initial human studies are encouraging, and other studies using cochlear implant to suppress tinnitus have shown very positive results. Silere is early stage private company located in Kirkland Wa. http://www.silere.com

    Link to this
  19. 19. arctic girl 12:46 am 01/2/2010

    I’ll take any kind of science if it would calm the noise. As a sufferer for over 50 years, I’m ready for relief. Loud noise did not cause my tinnitus. Except for extremely bad ear infections as a child, I don’t know what did. I’m no scientist, but have thought that possibly an opposing frequency might cancel the noise. Ginko Biloba has not helped, but white noise at night helps me to sleep.

    Link to this
  20. 20. askkp 2:05 am 01/2/2010

    Anyone experience this. I began hearing faint music at various times during the day. I dismissed it as coming from the apartment or office next door. Then I attended a party where the music was really loud. The next day I had the sound of steam in my head. Not my ears, my head. Two levels of steam. If I jiggles my fingers in my ears I heard chimes. One tone in one ear. An octave higher in the other. Very strange. The music that I had heard previously came back louder than before. Still muffled. Different music at different times of the day. I might not have minded but it was bad music. Jazz in the morning. Big band in the afternoon, and opera in the evening. When there wasn’t music, there was steam, like a radiator. It wasn’t in my ears, it was actually inside my head. Covering my ears made no difference. I came to believe I somehow was getting radio waves in my brain. I read about that once. A person was receiving sound waves through fillings in his teeth. Not having recent dental work I ruled that out. I had, however been taking large doses of iron to treat anemia that came out of nowhere. The anemia went away, by sounds took its place. Has anyone had a similar experience. Or should I just await the men in white coats? e me any time.

    Link to this
  21. 21. charlief 4:12 am 01/3/2010

    To Jennsyn, I found this site today where you can check your T Frequency. http://audiorelief.co.uk/en/tinnitus_test.html It’s for free, then they try to sell you their masking products. I believe that it may be easy to find ways to notch music and DIY.

    Link to this
  22. 22. charlief 4:13 am 01/3/2010

    To Jennsyn, I found this site today where you can check your T Frequency. http://audiorelief.co.uk/en/tinnitus_test.html It’s for free, then they try to sell you their masking products. I believe that it may be easy to find ways to notch music and DIY.

    Link to this
  23. 23. Marcus73 3:27 pm 01/3/2010

    This is very intersting. I wonder if it so that everyone with tinnitus has the same frequency. I noticed mine is very close to the sound from a seashell held close to the ear, because I could not hear anything from an old seashell I have, while previously I have heard something from it.

    Link to this
  24. 24. Marcus73 3:30 pm 01/3/2010

    This is very interesting. I wonder if everyone who has got tinnitus has the same frequency? I happend to notice that my tinnitus must be very close or maybe even exactly the same frequency as the sound from a seashell held close to the ear. I have one old, quite big, seashell which I used to hear some sound from, but not anymore.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Marcus73 3:43 pm 01/3/2010

    Did the test on audiorelief and concluded my tinnitus must be very close 10kHz. Anyone with experience of the therapy CD, "TinniTool", earplugs, etc, they sell?

    Link to this
  26. 26. Marcus73 3:53 pm 01/3/2010

    Did the test at audiorelief.co.uk and it seems my tinnitus is very close to 10kHz.
    Anyone who has experience from the therapyCD, custom earplugs & "TinniTool" they sell?

    Link to this
  27. 27. can't stop the music 8:13 am 01/4/2010

    Been going to Mass eye and Ear for my Tinnitus, with no help in sight. Can’t sleep, can’t think, this is the worst…..

    Link to this
  28. 28. can't stop the music 8:15 am 01/4/2010

    Been going to Mass eye and Ear, no help .. Can’t sleep, Can’t think.. Sign me up.

    Link to this
  29. 29. lynjannuzzi 11:56 pm 01/6/2010

    In your test of audiometry must have a variation in the curve.

    Link to this
  30. 30. sonica 6:15 am 01/7/2010

    can we test this new therapy in italy? we have a lot of patients with this problem.TRT,ginko biloba with no results. I try with a normal ipod but only with "pianoforte" music and this is better but if I can try with other solutions……..

    Link to this
  31. 31. sonica 6:18 am 01/7/2010

    can we test this new therapy in italy? we have a lot of patients with this problem.TRT,ginko biloba with no results. I try with a normal ipod but only with "pianoforte" music and this is better but if I can try with other solutions……..

    Link to this
  32. 32. tmaskell 7:26 pm 01/10/2010

    to Marcus73; I believe the pitch or pitches of tinnitus are directly related to the pitch of the damaged fibres in the cochlea. Mine was caused by artillery, and playing in a loud rock band. (Mother was right!!)

    Link to this
  33. 33. Angela7 2:37 pm 01/12/2010

    I’ve been drinking soy milk for several years and have only had tinnitus for the past 4 months. I’ll cut out the soy milk and see if it helps. Thanks for the tip.

    Link to this
  34. 34. kevin minney 6:51 pm 01/28/2010

    Enter Your Comment Here.Dr. Porges at the University of Illinois at Chicago is using "notched" music to help autistics recover. He has written about this in his work on Polyvagal Theory.
    Kevin

    Link to this
  35. 35. kevin minney 6:53 pm 01/28/2010

    Enter Your Comment Here.
    Dr. Porges of the University of Illinois at Chicago has been conducting studies using "notched" music for years now. It has been shown to improve the affect and behavior of autistic individuals. He has published on this under Polyvagal Theory.
    Kevin

    Link to this
  36. 36. robbinrob2 11:25 am 06/4/2010

    Thanks for an interesting article on tinnitus. For more on how to treat tinnitus please visit http://www.tinnitus-relief.com

    Link to this
  37. 37. cyclone001 12:55 am 06/28/2010

    You can call up a "signal generator" on the internet download it for free for 30 days and use it to tune into the frequency of your tinnitus. I did and my right ear is around 7.5kHz and my left is around 7kHz. You can also give your family and idea of how loud it is in your head, by varying the level of the generated signal to match that in your head.

    Link to this
  38. 38. hjacobs475 1:46 pm 07/20/2010

    does anyone know of any person that makes tailor made cd’s or downloads for a person such as myself with tinnitus can purchase?

    thank you.

    Link to this
  39. 39. Erica8Woody 2:04 am 12/23/2010

    I think this is really good and easy to do for everybody… I want to know that how can this new therapy work and hearing loss ,tinnitus problem???
    <a href="http://www.coradhealthcare.com/Ringing_in_ear.html">ringing in ear</a>

    Link to this
  40. 40. griffinpup2000 5:20 pm 03/27/2011

    Several of my friends suffer from tinnitus and now wear <a href="http://www.earhearingaid.co.uk&quot; title="hearing aid">Hearing Aids</a>

    Link to this
  41. 41. jaypayeighty 6:09 pm 07/19/2012

    This type of therapy is available cheaply online through AudioNotch (http://www.audionotch.com). They have an easy way to match your pitch, and then you can download mp3s.

    Link to this

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