The 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.

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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. .
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What about someone who doesn’t suffer from tinnitus? Are there are any studies saying its harmful to use white noise at night to sleep? I use earbuds with a white noise app to fall asleep and stay asleep because I am a very light sleeper. I suppose the health benefits of a good night sleep might outweigh any risk of utilizing white noise every night but it is still a concern that I have nonetheless.

Yoga asana namely Bhramary helps . I always get rid of tinnitus by doing this asana for 10 times.

I’d love to find something that reduces or eliminates tinnitus. I’ve had tinnitus in my left ear for over 40 years, following a motorcycle accident that fractured my skull behind the left ear. I’ve seen a couple of EarNoseThroat doctors that said they could rebuild my inner ear so I could hear out of that ear. However, they don’t know for sure that it would eliminate the ringing in the ear, since that may be caused by a phantom signal. I’m also worried about vertigo following the surgery. Anyone have similar damage to their ear out there that has had surgery?

In addition to speaking with one’s doctor, here’s what I’ve learned, to stop (or at least very much decrease) one’s tinnitus (and I know this from my own personal experiences):

Chinese “chi gong” medicine says (and it works for me) to do something called “drumming”, for tinnitus, which means this:

I hold my hands over my ears as if my hands were “ear-muffs”. (right hand over right ear, and left hand over left ear), with fingers pointing upwards, and with all fingers in gentle contact with scalp.

Then, I take my 2nd fingers (next to thumbs) and cross them over my 3rd fingers, and then immediately bring back my 2nd fingers in a “thumping” manner (“drumming”) onto my head.

I repeat this “drumming” maneuver 5 more times (total of 6 times doing the “drumming”).

Then, I keep my “ear-muff” position of hands over ears for a few more seconds.

Anyone can google “drumming, chi gong” for more details.

And also, placing ones middle fingers in ears, gently (right middle finger into right ear, and left middle finger into left ear), for a minute or so, also seems to help decrease tinnitus.

Hope this helps.

Concerned lady in Colorado (retired RN/nurse, into holistic health only when safe and effective, but always consult with doctor first)

I just use a small fan on the night stand, it’s just loud enough that I can sleep.

After going on a cruise 7 yrs ago, I developed ‘disembarkment syndrome’ or “Mal’de debarkment! For 1 1/2 yrs I could not go upstairs, bend over or lie my head down on a pillow to sleep in a regular bed. I was most comfortable sleeping sitting up in the corner of the couch. I was continually dizzy and nauseous ! It was so, so horrible! I had to retire early. : ( Even though I had gone to many doctors, tried prescribed drugs, tried PT, I still had that constant drone in my head!
Over time, I learned to modify my environment, always have background noise from the TV or radio. When I go into a restaurant, I sit so I am not bombarded by sound or light. Having various strengths of ear plugs on me is helpful when out in public. White noise does not work as well as having the radio or TV on.
I am told to never go on a boat or fly in a plane again. ( Best ear plugs go to”earpeace.com.”)
I hope this helps other people as this really changed my life!

I have not found white noise to be helpful with my tinnitus. Though I tried it only a couple of times, it was very disconcerting. I’ve gone to a homeo-pathic doctor and a cranial-sacral specialist and have received some relief. The symptoms return, however. I bought hearing aids, not only for some hearing loss, but also because I was told they may be helpful for the tinnitus. Again, this was not the case and I have had to discontinue using them because they caused occasional severe ear aches. My cranial-sacral specialist said the constant impulses may make the situation worse.

I look on my tinnitus as its own kind of white noise.

The professional services firm where I worked for more than 25 years had white noise generated throughout my work area during the last several years I was there. I have never been a person who wanted to work, study or read with noise in the background, so I found the white noise very bothersome. I remember the noise itself had the constant effect of being distracting to me during work, especially toward the end of the day. Given the info above, I wonder if that office white noise also actually caused my tinnitus.

Should I assume running a fan or room a/c at night has the same detrimental effect? Oh, dear!

I have had tinnitus for a very long time. I had totally lost hearing in my left ear, I went to a hearing specialist, his diagnosis was calcification of the stapes, he said my brain created the tinnitus as a result of the hearing loss. He recommended a stapedectomy and assured me that the operation would correct the hearing loss and the tinnitus. I did regain hearing in my left ear, which I am very thankful for, but, no improvement whatsoever in the tinnitus. I am anxious for something to help this problem, tinnitus can be maddening.

Actually, Gammacore device was just cleared for migraines by FDA a few months back, stimulates vagus nerve. Could probably help a number of conditions but no one will prescribe off label and is also expensive.

What is available now unable to open ears used to on plane but doesn’t now also can’t hear some muted voices audio test no help tried everything please help noise driving me crazy can’t sleep night thank u

I have learned to live with tinnitus, which hasn’t been easy, since I am a music teacher. I have to have music or talk radio on when I am not in class, to distract me from the constant “scream” I hear. I am now rethinking sleeping with white noise [thanks to your article], and am going to try soft, ambient music tonight. I’d also like to share that while most people seem to pronounce it “tin-‘itis”, my audiologist pronounces it “‘tinatus”

My tinnitus started after I spent 2 straight hours in a dentist’s chair getting one of those “all in one day crown replacements”. I’ve had a lot of crowns over many years and this was the first time to this dentist. He sawed and drilled non-stop. No one ever mentions this as one option for
tinnitus. thanks.

Tinnitus is an exhausting, chronic, invisible, anxiety-producing, depressing affliction. No one understands the toll it takes unless they too are sufferers. I believe a lifetime of sinus infections and antibiotics might be the the cause. It’s always worse during bad weather. I was told by an audiologist to use a garden variety box fan to help me sleep at night. But the only thing that really helps is 1/2-1 mgs of clonazepam.
I have suffered for at least 20 years. . Supposedly, I have Meniere’s Disease. All I know is the only time I escape the noise is when I’m asleep. I often feel like I’m losing g my mind due to this condition. Oddly, in this huge metropolitan areas, boasting a world-renowned medical center, I have found no support whatsoever.

I’ve lived with tinnitus for many years, and this is the first time I’ve heard any reference to associated cognitive effects. Brain disorganization? Boy howdy, you got that right!

Of course, for me, tinnitus is only part of the larger picture of Meniere’s disease, which often includes cognitive impairment among its symptoms. I’m darn lucky I can still work, though in a far less demanding line of work.

My tinnitus spikes up almost every other day.
My Doctor is recommending the use of Xanax and stedon and also,
light music like classical or, pleasant natural sounds during the night.
Is this advisable? Could it make my case worse? Is there any
better approach?

How does this apply to those without tinnitus who use white noise machines? How about for babies whose parents use the machines starting from birth?

Very interesting article. Any resources to suggest for further reading on the treatments you suggest?

I’m wondering if this could apply to using white noise machines for sleeping? My grandchildren don’t have tinnitus but use those machines. One child is ADHD. It makes sense that using sound therapy such as speech or music would be a healthier option. Thoughts?

I had a form of tinnitus in my right ear from a blow for ten years. I started applying basil essential oil behind that ear and down my jawline. I have experience much relief. I hardly ever hear it anymore. I hope this helps someone. Tinnitus is nerve wracking , at best.

Life is bad either way, I will continue with my cricket sounds. It is definitely an invisible harm to the QOL. People without it do not really realize that it slowly drives you mad…and sometimes much worse than others with no real rhyme or reason.

I use white noise and it seems to help. The white noise I use various from the sounds of rain, thunder, back to rain. It helps. Been using white noise for over 5 years.

I live in the city and have always used a fan or other white noise machine to muffle the sounds of traffic and neighbors, etc. And now I find that I’ve made my tinnitus worse – or maybe even caused it – by doing so.

The first time I mentioned the symptoms to a doctor, he offered me a prescription for an anti-depressant. I asked if it had some off-label use in treating tinnitus and he said it didn’t, but that living with tinnitus often causes depression. It wasn’t bad enough at the time for me to take him up on it, but now I understand what he was talking about. And while information like this is useful and I greatly appreciate it (especially because no one else seems to be sharing it), it has tipped me into despair.

I have had Tinnitus for about six years and find the best way for me to get to sleep is to have my bedside radio playing BBC all night. I suppose that it is a form of white noise with low volume words instead of a fuzzy sounds. Perhaps it is just as harmful as white noise.

I also listen to the BBC at night as a way of dealing with tinnitus. I keep the volume very low, and I am able to eventually fall asleep.

My daughter used white noise to help her infant sleep. I never heard of this, but times change. I was always uncomfortable with this idea. Now my grandson is 3 1/2 and needs speech lessons, any connection?

I had tinnitus several years ago that even interfered with watching tv. I also had severe jaw clenching caused by mis-alignment (bad bite). The bad bite developed over several years after having a molar pulled and not getting a bridge or implant. I almost exclusively chewed on one side of my mouth. When I had braces to correct my bite, at age 55, my jaw clenching AND the tinnitus went away.

Thanks for this. Just diagnosed.

Wonder if TCM has any treatments for tinnitus ?

I do NOT agree with that. I have chronic tinnitus due to being stuck with lightening and left a permanent ringing. I cannot sleep without some kind of background noise. I still have my aquarium going because of the pleasant water sounds–just no fish in it. The sounds of a fan running is also soothing.

I had tinnitus constantly as a symptom of Menieres disease. Fortunately my acupuncturist worked with me and has been able to relieve my symptoms which also include dizziness and vertigo. I highly suggest trying this therapy. I have been symptom free now for eight months. My acupuncturist is the best!

I have had tennitus for over 2 years. It comes from losing hearing in my right ear apparently. My brain then compensates with the high pitch in my ear.

I compensate at night by using a fan to cover the sound. I use an app fan noise on my phone or the hotel AC when I travel. My brain has now allowed me to ignore the sound mostly except when I think about the noise like now.

I originally thought I would go crazy but you can adapt. Patience is required. It took me many months since I also had shingles shortly after my tennitus first started. Good luck to my co-sufferers.

I’ve experienced tinnitus for many years. I find, however, my brain has just learned to “tune it out” and most of the time, when my focus is on other things, I don’t attend to it nor does it disrupt my life. I live in the part of the country – in the country – where the outdoors, particularly in the evening, is filled with the sound of crickets and cicadas in the evening – which, because they are in tune with my tinnitus, totally mask it.

My hearing has always been very sensitive. I learned to pay the piano, by ear, no lessons, by the time I was ten years old. I didn’t know a loud noise would take my hearing. When I was forty years old, I was in a situation of being near a loud noise for a long time. My hearing was damaged. I could hardly wait to get to the ear doctor to get it fixed. He said it can’t be fixed. That will be your hearing for the remainder of your life.

Later, when I moved to a retirement community to live, they had a “mandatory” fire alarm test yearly. We were not warned when. After this was over, my hearing was damaged even more. I learned that over 85 decibels could damage your hearing (about like standing near a shot gun). Each year they promise to warn us ahead of time, They don’t. I got a gadget that measures decibels.

It went over 85 decibels. I have constant tinnitus, and $2,000 hearing aids. I can understand what people say so long as they separate their words and speak clearly. I gave all my CD’s away. I miss music more than anything.

I have read that using the netti pot helps. I do think it has helped me.

I experienced Tinnitus in my left ear. I was taking Vitamin D3 5000 IU. Three weeks after stopping Vitamin D3 the ringing stopped.

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