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Health Team

Musical therapy can soothe hearing ailment

Posted October 25, 2010

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— Many people hear a constant annoying sound in their heads that others around them don't hear.

Tinnitus leads 12 million Americans to seek medical help each year, but there's no absolute cure. A new type of therapy, however, is offering patients like Michael Gillespie, relief.

Two years ago, Gillespie had a viral ear infection, which led to some hearing loss. Medication fixed the problem.

“My hearing came back to normal, but as a result of that, I started to develop ringing in my ears,” Gillespie said. “I found that it made me extraordinarily anxious.”

Michael Gillespie Musical therapy can soothe hearing ailment

The Tinnitus became so unbearable, he said, that it made him want “to run away from his own head.”

“The main cause of tinnitus is underlying hearing loss,” said Rebecca Price, an audiologist at Duke University School of Medicine’s Division of Speech Pathology and Audiology. “So basically, when someone has hearing loss, their brain is trying to compensate for the missing sound.”

Gillespie found some relief with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, but he didn't want to take them for life.

So, Price set Gillespie up with a new type of therapy by first finding the pitch of the noise in his head and then using a digital device – with four channels of soothing music – to mask tinnitus.

The same pitch of his tinnitus is embedded in the music.

“That's where the reactive pairing is happening in the brain - changing the way we perceive the tinnitus,” Price said.

After several hours of use every day over several weeks, the tinnitus fades to the background.

Six months later, Gillespie doesn't need the device as often.

“It's made a huge difference for me, and you know, in a way, it's given me my life back,” he said.

Most Insurance companies still consider the device experimental, so they don't help cover the costs, which, including customization and follow-up appointments, costs about $4,500.

6 Comments

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  • clark063 Oct 28, 1:43 p.m.

    simracer68 - You are exactly right! I have suffered for years - day, night (even keeps me awake or awakens me at night). My hearing tests did show gaps in my hearing. Sometimes I drive my family and co-workers crazy b/c I can't hear them and they don't understand why I can hear fine sometimes and not others! I have been told that there is no cure or help! Thanks!

  • simracer68 Oct 26, 1:45 p.m.

    wilmalathrup: Any tinnitus *is* hearing loss, do not kid yourself. You cannot hear anything that occurs at the same pitch or pitches at which your tinnitus is occurring. The tinnitus is louder (since it is actual nerve damage in our heads) and will override any other noise at those same frequencies. You may be able to hear stuff at other freqs just fine, but find something that occurs at the same freq as any of your tinnitus sounds - you'll find that it is harder to hear those sounds than you think. Better yet, go have a hearing test done and ask to see the results, per ear, as a chart/graph. You will see glaring gaps in your hearing at the freqs at which your tinnitus is occurring, even if you hear everything else 100% clear.

    And genuine T sufferers can sometimes "ignore" the sound during the day when out and about, but cannot when they are surrounded by absolute silence - like at night, in bed. I can even hear mine in the shower.

  • psycho Oct 26, 11:43 a.m.

    Really cool technology! Too bad it's so expensive and, as usual, insurance is avoiding paying for it.

  • wilmalathrup Oct 25, 7:33 p.m.

    I have had fluctuating tinitus for ten years. Nothing to do with hearing loss but it started after a severe sinus infection. This sounds like a great treatment. Hypnonsis worked wonders for me. Now I just ignore the sound. May work for you to.

  • Baybee Doll Oct 25, 7:23 p.m.

    Wow, this is really neaf, but who could afford to pay for it??

  • krisandbruiser Oct 25, 7:00 p.m.

    I have severe tinitus from 20 years of working on jet engines and 21 years in the equipment repair industry. I would love for it to go away or at least be quieted, however, I could not afford the cost of this if insurance won't help. I just applied to the VA for hearing aides, I was told it would take at least a year to get them.