Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

White Noise for Tinnitus–More Harm Than Good?

Many people with tinnitus use white noise to mask the unpleasant sounds. A review concludes that this may push the brain toward further disorganization and worsen the cognitive effects of tinnitus.

People with tinnitus or ringing in the ears suffer invisible harm to their quality of life. The constant hissing, chirping or buzzing can make it hard to function during the day and sleep is often disturbed. Such patients may seek respite from the sounds in their heads by using a white noise generator.

Is White Noise the Way to Treat Tinnitus?

A review of the effects of white noise suggests that this tempting short-term solution may have negative consequences over the long term (JAMA Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Aug. 30, 2018). In animal studies, white noise exposure disrupts neurological organization. In summary, the reviewers conclude that unstructured noise can produce the same unfortunate brain changes as tinnitus and slow processing of acoustic signals like words.

What Else Can You Do?

The scientists writing this review suggest several approaches that would take advantage of the neuroplasticity of the brain and produce more positive brain changes than white noise. They recommend sound therapy using structured acoustic signals such as music or speech. Other approaches that can benefit sufferers include computerized brain training and timing-sensitive conditioning to produce long-term synaptic depression. In the future, vagus nerve stimulation may be practical. Animal studies are positive, but current methods of vagus nerve stimulation are invasive.

The authors note:

“A noisy environment produces a noisy brain.”

Consequently, they discourage random-noise generators for treating tinnitus as doing more harm than good. You may be interested in reading what we wrote some years ago about the Neuromonics Tinnitus Treatment that utilizes principles of neuroplasticity to reorganize the brain.

Rate this article
4.5- 13 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.