Sound therapy, or sound enrichment, distracts your brain from paying attention to tinnitus sounds, which can help it to 'filter out' tinnitus over time, to the point that it no longer bothers you. This process is called habituation.
Listening to pleasant, soothing sounds can also be relaxing, which can help to reduce the stress that can be associated with tinnitus.
You can use sound therapy as a self-help technique – you don't need professional support. However, your hearing specialist may support you to use sound therapy as part of a broader tinnitus management programme. You may have heard about tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), which involves a combination of more intensive sound therapy and long-term counselling. You may be referred for TRT if other therapies don’t work.
What to use for sound therapy
You can experiment with different sounds to find out what works for you in different environments.
You could try:
- everyday sounds such as the TV, music or an electric fan
- leaving a window open at night to hear noises from outside
- CDs or mp3 files of recorded natural sounds like the sea or birdsong
- tinnitus apps (software applications) for smartphones and tablet devices – many of these are free to download
- sound generators and other sound therapy devices.
Bedside and desktop sound generators
These portable sound generators are often known as tinnitus relaxers. They produce a range of quiet, natural sounds, such as birdsong and falling raindrops, to create a peaceful atmosphere and distract you from your tinnitus.
There’s a range of different sound generators available – some are for use at night and have a timer so they switch off when you are asleep, and some come with extra features to help you relax, such as aromatherapy fragrances and coloured lights.
Your audiology clinic or tinnitus centre may provide you with, or sell you, a tinnitus relaxer. You can also buy them from online stores, including the Action on Hearing Loss shop.
Wearable sound generators
These small devices, sometimes called tinnitus maskers, look a bit like hearing aids. They can be worn in, or behind, your ear and play a soft 'shushing' sound.
You might be able to get one or two wearable sound generators free from the NHS if you find your tinnitus troublesome. Or you could buy them from a private hearing care provider. They must be fitted by a tinnitus specialist.
Hearing aids or combination devices
If you have hearing loss and tinnitus, hearing aids can help with both. They can help you to hear better and will make environmental sounds louder, which can help to mask, or distract you from, your tinnitus.
Hearing aids will also make listening easier, so they can help to reduce any stress or anxiety that may be associated with hearing loss.
A combination device has all the advantages of a hearing aid but it also generates sounds to help mask tinnitus. These devices are now widely available both from the NHS and privately. Your audiologist can let you know whether this type of hearing aid could help you, and which type would be best.
Sound pillows and pillow speakers
These products are designed to distract you from tinnitus when you’re trying to sleep. A sound pillow is a pillow with built-in speakers, and pillow speakers fit inside a pillowcase.
You can connect sound pillows and pillow speakers to your tinnitus relaxer or music player. They are useful because they let you listen to sounds in bed without the discomfort of earphones or headphones. And if you have a partner, they let you listen to sounds in bed without disturbing them.
You can buy sound pillows and pillow speakers from online stores including the Action on Hearing Loss shop.