White Noise Devices for Tinnitus
December 01, 2020

White noise devices generate sound to partially or entirely mask the noise a tinnitus sufferer hears internally. Machines produce white noise, pink noise, or other ambient sounds to give a patient a break from tinnitus. Almost any device, radio, television, etc. that produces sound can drown out tinnitus symptoms. When you listen to a television show or an audiobook, you pay attention to the dialogue or story. White noise machines work differently. They use specific kinds of sounds to dampen the noise in your ears. Both the tinnitus masker and the tinnitus noise become background noise so you can concentrate or fall asleep. There are even devices that you can customize for your specific kind of tinnitus. 

Sound Therapy

Infographic listing the benefits of south baths and sound therapy

To cope with tinnitus, patients look to sound therapy. Sound or acoustic therapy was initially developed as a distraction for people who have tinnitus. Doctors used low-level sounds as background noise to help manage the condition. White noise devices provide the needed sounds. Tinnitus maskers and sound therapy have advanced to the point where most people can get relief.

White noise helps tinnitus patients by:

  • Masking - covering the internal sounds you hear 
  • Distraction - a new sound can take your attention away from annoying buzzing or ringing from tinnitus.
  • Habituation - by hearing a new noise consistently, you train your brain to think tinnitus sounds should be ignored because they are less important. 
  • Neuromodulation - if too much activity in certain parts of your brain causes tinnitus, background noise could change the patterns that cause the action. 

Some devices can be customized for your specific case of tinnitus. They play sounds at frequencies and tones tailored to your needs. The sound that will help you depends on your symptoms and sensitivities. People who are overly sensitive to sounds like running water, for example, may not benefit from white noise. A doctor can help you find the right sound and volume.

White Noise Device Sounds

 Infographic of different color sound types

Different devices offer different sound choices.

Broadband noise sounds like radio static and comes in different "colors." The various colors, including white, pink, brown, and blue, are produced by different musical pitches. The number of vibrations per second determines pitch or frequency. 

Modulated tones sound like they are pulsing.

Notched sounds stress-specific frequencies or tones that can be customized to match your tinnitus symptoms. 

Music can be relaxing and distracting for some people. Usually, moderate tempo instrumental music works best for sound therapy.

Nature Sounds can help you relax but won’t necessarily help with tinnitus noise.

White Noise Devices for Tinnitus

Image of tabletop white noise device

Tabletop - there are many white noise machines for your desk or bedside table. Most plug into the wall, but there are also rechargeable, portable devices. Some provide only white noise, like the sound of a fan or rushing air, but most offer a choice of sounds to include waves crashing, music, rain falling, and binaural beats.  More sophisticated machines allow you to adjust the pitch or frequency to match your internal noise.  Some have timers you can set to shut off after 30, 60, or 90 minutes.

Headbands- These fleece headbands you can wear have built-in headphones that play soothing sounds or music to help you sleep. These have 20-hour rechargeable batteries and a timer.

Tinnitus Relief Sound Pillow - These pillows are just like regular pillows but have built-in stereo speakers. You connect the pillow to a stereo or sound machine to play the sounds you need for tinnitus relief while you sleep.

Online Tone Generator WebsitesIf you have tonal tinnitus, some websites offer practical help with analyzing the frequency you hear because of tinnitus. Knowing your frequency can help you find the best tinnitus masking machine.

If you can think of your tinnitus ringing or buzzing as a bright light in a dark room, imagine what would happen to the bright light if you were to turn on the overhead lights. The bright light would not seem so brilliant anymore. Sound therapy using tinnitus maskers provides the equivalent of an overhead light. With the masking sound, your internal noise doesn't seem as dominant and annoying.

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Drew Sutton M.D.

Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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