What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is any kind of noise a person hears that is not present in the environment or attributable to an external source. It is often described as a ringing, roaring, humming, or buzzing, but others experience more melodic forms. It is normal to have transient episodes of tinnitus, either following exposure to loud noise (such as attending a concert) or simply out of the blue. Some individuals, though, experience constant tinnitus, which can be quite distracting and bothersome.

The most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss, though other causes include certain medications, stress, head trauma, excessive ear wax, or some medical conditions. It is estimated that about 10-15% of the population experiences constant tinnitus, and at least 80% of those individuals also have some measurable degree of hearing loss.

Tinnitus has been linked to the limbic system of the brain, meaning that it is highly correlated to your emotional state. Simply put, the more you focus on or stress about your tinnitus, the worse it gets. For this reason, a common recommendation for people who suffer from tinnitus is to avoid being in complete quiet, because that is when the tinnitus is most noticeable. For some people this means putting music on while they work or sleeping with a sound machine. Any other actions you can take to distract yourself from the tinnitus or, at the very least, lower your stress response to it, will be beneficial.

This article will serve as a comprehensive guide on using white noise machine for tinnitus.

What Causes Tinnitus, And How Is It Treated? (Hint: White Noise Machine for Tinnitus)

Because the most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss, a very typical recommendation is to try hearing aids first. Often introducing amplification, particularly in the high frequency sounds that the patient has likely been missing, is enough to compensate for the tinnitus. Patients who suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, for example, typically present with a very specific pattern of their hearing loss, and it is very common for this group to report tinnitus in addition to their hearing difficulties. Often a binaural hearing aid fitting is enough to provide both better hearing and tinnitus relief, though many will still rely on a sound machine for sleep when their hearing aids have been removed.

Some hearing aid manufacturers do offer specific programs for tinnitus which involve playing a low-level sound through the hearing aids in addition to the prescribed amount of gain. This low-level sound, which could be anything from a static to a melody, is referred to as a “tinnitus masker” because it is something additional that is perceived as less bothersome and easier to ignore than the tinnitus itself. It can take some trial and error to determine what tinnitus masker is the most effective.

Some audiologists who are specifically trained in addressing tinnitus will work with you to “pitch match” your tinnitus, meaning they will try to identify what your tinnitus sounds like to you in terms of frequency and intensity.

From there, they can work with you to listen to different tinnitus masking options to see which are effective at blocking out the tinnitus, and which are suitable to listen to during the time when your tinnitus is the most bothersome (which might be all day!)

The audiologist may also have you complete a survey, such as the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI) to determine what subjective impact your tinnitus is having on your daily life. This can be repeated after a hearing aid fitting to determine which areas, if any, need improvement.

If you are a tinnitus sufferer who does not have hearing loss or if amplification is not providing adequate relief, you may be seeking other options. Maybe you use hearing aids during the day and they provide relief, or your tinnitus is only bothersome at night or other times of quiet and stillness. This could also occur when you are attempting to work or be creative, which can interfere with concentration and ability to focus. As previously mentioned, focusing on or stressing about your tinnitus can make it worse, creating a vicious cycle that prevents rest, relaxation, and concentration. 

Do not be fooled by herbal remedies or other holistic supplements; they are not going to “cure” your tinnitus, as there is no cure but simply forms of managing the symptom. There are some dietary recommendations such as limiting sodium and/or caffeine that may help to alleviate your tinnitus depending on the cause. If it seems to be exacerbated by stress or other emotions, you may consider talk therapy or other activities to support your mental health.

Some patients find relief through yoga, knitting, fishing, or other such meditative hobbies. Another option is introducing another sound into your environment, and a white noise machine is a simple way to mask your tinnitus and help to distract from it, thus allowing you to sleep or concentrate.

white noise machine for tinnitus

How Should I Choose A White Noise Machine?

There are several factors to consider when selecting a white noise machine. You might consider trying it out first by playing it through your phone; YouTube has free videos with several hours of continuous white noise. If you use a Google Home or similar system, you can also play white noise through that speaker. However, if you’re looking to purchase a dedicated white noise machine, you’ll want to consider the following:

Sound Options And Customization Features

white noise machine for tinnitus

Some sound machines may offer one type of white noise, while others offer different frequencies or types of sound such as melodies or water sounds like ocean waves or rain. This is something you can experiment with to see what type of sound provides the greatest distraction and subsequent relief from your tinnitus.

  • Size, portability and placement options

There are some white noise machines that are smaller than your hand, making them quite easy to move around and ideal for travel. Others are larger and intended to remain in one place, such as your night table if you are only using it for sleep. You might opt to have more than one if you use a system for sleep and another at work or for travel. Fortunately there are a lot of low-cost options available, so it isn’t cost prohibitive to have multiple systems.

  • Power source and energy efficiency

Some white noise generators require a power source and have to remain plugged in. If you are keeping something by your bed, this might not be an issue. For travel, you may prefer to use something that has a rechargeable battery and can be charged using a micro-USB or USB-C charging port that you are likely already carrying for your other devices. The battery charge often lasts for 10-12 hours, depending on the white noise machine.

What Are Some Of The Best White Noise Machine for Tinnitus?

1. YogaSleep Hushh Portable White Noise Sound Machine

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02/18/2024 10:44 am GMT

This model is extremely small and light and comes with a small hook so it can be attached to a bag or hung from a bedpost. It charges using a micro-USB and holds a charge for over 6 hours. There are three sound options: bright white noise, deep white noise, and surf. The volume can be easily adjusted and there is an indicator light.

2. LectroFan EVO

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This device offers 22 different sound options and, while it isn’t quite as small as the YogaSleep Hushh, it is still one that would be reasonable to travel with. It has a wide volume range (up to 87 decibels), as well as a timer function. 

3. Hatch Restore

This functions as an alarm clock, light, and sound machine. It can be used to create a personal sleep routine with the combination of changes in light as well as meditation and soothing sleep sounds. It is a system designed to improve your overall sleep, which may be particularly helpful if your tinnitus is exacerbated by stress or exhaustion. It is at a much higher price point, but Hatch offers a 60 day trial period.

4. YogaSleep Dohm

This device has been on the market for over 60 years. Rather than digital speakers, the Dohm plugs into the wall and then generates sound via a fan in a small container. You can manually adjust the loudness and quality by rotating the cap and collar. 

5. Sound Oasis Sleep Sound Machine

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This device has 20 sounds available, and also has the option to connect to your phone via Bluetooth to stream other sounds, if preferred. The associated app can also help you to create a wind-down routine, and gives you the ability to set a timer for the sounds if desired. It lasts 5-8 hours on a single charge and is small enough to be portable.

6. Snooz Smart White Noise Machine

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02/19/2024 08:29 pm GMT

Like the Dohm device, the Snooz functions with an internal fan. It is very portable and incorporates a timer and optional night light. For those who are looking for an energy efficient option, this uses 98% less energy than a regular fan and is considerably easier to travel with.

BetterSleep App (iOS/Android)

This is a great option if you aren’t entirely sure white noise is going to work for you. It’s a free app (with paid features) with multiple sounds available (river, storm, and heartbeat in addition to white, pink, and brown noise). You can also mix your own custom sleep ambiance.

What Do I Need To Know To Use A White Noise Machine?

  1. Experiment with different types of noise. White noise has equal power across all frequencies that are within human audibility. Pink noise has reduced higher frequencies, and some find it to be more soothing than white noise. Brown noise has even lower emphasis on the high frequencies than pink noise and sounds a bit rougher. Depending on your tinnitus and what you are trying to do (for example, sleeping vs. focusing on a project) you may prefer one over the other.
  2. Find an appropriate volume level. Sound machines have volume control functionality, and some can get quite loud. Ideally you want to find the absolute minimum volume level that adequately masks your tinnitus. Some of the sound machines can be loud enough to actually cause damage, particularly if it is placed on a night table close to your head. Be mindful about the volume and the placement in the room.
  3. Incorporating white noise into daily routines and bedtime rituals. If you are struggling with tinnitus at different points during the day, you’ll want to adapt the white noise type and volume to your desired settings. Consistency will help the effectiveness of the masking, particularly for sleep. Over time, your brain will start to associate the sound with sleep and it can help you to initially fall asleep as well as stay asleep. Some may choose to set a timer while others will keep the noise going all night.
  4. Consider other relaxation techniques in addition to white noise. You may find that incorporating meditation, breathing techniques, aromatherapy, etc. will help you to relax in general and thus alleviate some of the stress associated with your tinnitus.

If you are experiencing tinnitus, the first step is to consult an audiologist for a full diagnostic hearing test to determine if hearing loss is the cause. The audiologist will make recommendations for amplification, if appropriate, and can also check for other reasons for tinnitus such as excessive earwax. Your primary care physician is also a good resource to let you know whether any diagnoses and/or medications could be to blame for your tinnitus.

If you decide to purchase a white noise machine, know that it may take several weeks of consistent use to notice a difference in your response to your tinnitus. Additionally, remember that the white noise machine may just be one part of your tinnitus management strategy, and that utilizing amplification (if appropriate) and relaxation techniques in combination with the white noise can offer the best opportunity for sustained relief. 

erin edwards aud
Clinical Audiologist at Towson University | + posts

Erin Edwards received her Doctor of Audiology degree from Towson University in 2015 and her Ph.D. in Education and Leadership from Pacific University in 2022. She has worked with patients of all ages in a variety of settings and has a specific interest in cochlear implants, the relationship of hearing loss and dementia, and interdisciplinary healthcare.

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