Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you turn on relaxing sounds before bed? White noise is used by many to drift off to dreamland at night with machines and even smartphone applications replicating the noise, but a new study by the University of Basel has found that white noise may be able to do much more than help you catch some Z’s. Though it is essentially an extra background noise, researchers have concluded that it can make hearing pure sounds more precise, a realization with the possibility of aiding in the future development of cochlear implants.
How Is White Noise Special?
Most of us associate white noise with the sound an old television set makes without a signal, but white noise is far different than other noise. By definition, white noise is described as a random signal made up of sounds from all the frequencies the human ear can hear, but at the same exact intensity. How does that help you sleep and hear? Since it is created from all of the frequencies the ear and brain can perceive, no sound is uniquely distinct, turning everything you hear into a blurred “hissing” or “shushing” sound. This continuous sound makes it much easier for us to sleep through things such as a door slamming or a ringing phone, as they are folded into the blur and muffled. Next time you put on white noise before going to bed, remember that you are hearing every sound from every frequency between 20Hz to 20,000Hz all at once.
University of Basel’s Findings
Your brain has an extraordinary ability to pick out relevant information from less relevant background noise thanks to an area that processes auditory stimuli called the auditory cortex. Led by Professor Dr.Tania Rinaldi Barkat from the Department of Biomedicine, the University of Basel’s team investigated sound perception and sound discrimination in a challenging sound environment.
Past studies have concluded that the distinction between sounds becomes more difficult the closer they are in frequency, which led researchers to believe that introducing white noise would make the task even more challenging. Despite their beliefs, the opposite was observed, with research concluding that “the brain’s ability to distinguish subtle tone differences improved when white noise was added to the background. Compared to a quiet environment, the noise thus facilitated auditory perception.” But how?
White Noise Reduced Neuronal Activity
Data presented by the group had found that white noise reduced the activity of the nerve cells in the auditory cortex by a significant margin. In contradictory fashion, this inhibition of the neuronal activity led to a more precise perception of pure tones. We found that less overlap occurred between populations of neurons during two separate tone representations,” stated Dr. Barkat. “As a result, the overall reduction in neuronal activity produced a more distinct tone representation.”
This Conclusion May Help In The Future
According to Dr. Barkat, it is possible that cochlear implants could use an effect similar to white noise in order to improve the frequency resolution and in turn, the hearing of their users. To determine whether white noise may help you, speak to a hearing health professional about possible options.
With around 50 million Americans reporting some form of tinnitus and 1 in 5 saying their condition is disabling, it’s clear that tinnitus is a serious problem that affects the day to day lives of many. Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways to ease or treat your symptoms depending on the root cause. For some, an underlying ailment such as a blood vessel condition or impacted earwax may be the cause of the bothersome buzzing, while others may choose to use medication such as antidepressants to reduce symptoms. Though medication may be a treatment option, certain medications are ototoxic and may actually worsen your tinnitus symptoms, leading some patients to prefer more holistic methods to avoid being introduced to new prescriptions. These certain adjustments to your daily life may reduce your tinnitus symptoms and increase your quality of life.
There are a number of changes you can make that may reduce your tinnitus symptoms that do not require supplements or medication.
Manage Stress.Studies have linked the onset of tinnitus to stressful events in patient’s lives, and there is a clear correlation between the severity of tinnitus symptoms and stress levels. Reducing stress may reduce the chance of experiencing tinnitus, or make your symptoms easier to cope with.
Avoid Possible Irritation. Some medications, stimulants, and environments are known to worsen tinnitus symptoms. Avoiding aspirin, nicotine, caffeine, and exposure to loud noises may stop the ringing from becoming more severe.
Drink Less, Hear More. Alcohol consumption is known to increase the severity of your tinnitus due to alcohol’s ability to dilate the blood vessels causing more blood to flow within the inner ear. This increased blood flow may change the composition of fluid in the inner ear and can have accompanying vertigo as well.
Though there is little evidence to support alternative medicine’s treatment of tinnitus, some alternative therapies have been used to help patients with their symptoms.
Zinc Supplements. Research has found that some patients with tinnitus may have low blood zinc levels. A 2003 study by the Ankara Numune Research and Education Hospital in Turkey found that patients who took 50mg of Zinc daily for 2 months reported a 10 dB decrease in the volume of their tinnitus, though these results are inconclusive.
Vitamin B. Like Zinc, Vitamin B deficiency is more common in people with tinnitus. Though some studies have found an improvement in symptom severity following Vitamin B12 therapy, the results are not overwhelmingly significant.
Tinnitus has often been linked to trouble sleeping, with exhaustion leading to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and severity of symptoms. Melatonin is a hormone used to regulate sleep cycles, which may make falling and staying asleep much easier.
Seek The Advice of a Hearing Health Professional
Starting a supplement regimen or new medication without the approval of a health care provider may result in worsening symptoms. Before starting any treatment options, it is best to consult a hearing health professional who knows your unique health needs and can give you the most up to date medical advice.
When you imagine what the future will be like in, say, 20 years, what do you see? Pop culture fosters expectations of flying cars, personal jetpacks, hoverboards, and much more. Some recent technological advances even seem like something you would find in a science fiction novel, not in real life—like self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality technologies.
Another futuristic advancement that may soon be a reality is more closely related to current hearing devices than to flying cars: brain-controlled hearing aids. Hearing aids have already seen numerous advances and developments in recent years, making them more effective than ever before. Today’s hearing aids are smaller, more comfortable, more discreet, and more powerful than those of years past.
Even with recent advances, hearing aids are still imperfect. One area where hearing aid users often notice a big difference from before they wore or needed hearing aids is in listening to a speaker when other noise is present. In a person with normal hearing, your brain distinguishes between the target speaker and all other noises, allowing you to focus on the target and minimize your attention to other speakers or sounds.
However, hearing aids cannot automatically perform this same function. If you increase the volume on your hearing aid in an effort to better hear the target speaker, you are also increasing the volume on all of the background noise. Some hearing aids allow the user to identify a target speaker by turning their head or gaze towards the target speaker, or by manually selecting the target speaker. These features are helpful yet imperfect; if the hearing aid user cannot maintain a gaze in the direction of the target speaker, does not want to use manual selections, or the target speaker is very close to another speaker, these features come up short.
Enter brain-controlled hearing aids. Previous research has determined that when a person focuses their listening efforts on a certain speaker in a noisy environment, their brain waves track the voice of the target speaker. The aim of a brain-controlled hearing aid is to monitor the brainwaves of the user in order to facilitate hearing and amplifying the voice of the target speaker.
Although much research and development remains to be explored in this field, recent research has shown promise in separating and amplifying the sound of a target speaker among background noise and other speakers. In a 2019 experiment, researchers used an auditory attention decoding (AAD) process to detect and amplify a target speaker among mixed background noise. The study participants indicated that it was significantly easier to follow the voice of the target speaker in the AAD-enhanced audio than in the original mixed audio. This advance can be used in brain-controlled hearing aids to amplify the voice of the target speaker and enable the listener to better follow a specific voice.
One major obstacle that remains to be overcome by researchers is determining a noninvasive and nonintrusive way to monitor the brain signals of the hearing aid user. This, along with an AAD process that accurately and rapidly identifies the target speaker, will present a challenge for researchers and developers. Still, the promise of brain-controlled hearing aids is very real and is closer than we may realize today.
For more information about brain-controlled hearing aids and other exciting advancements in the audiology field, we encourage you to contact our hearing professional today.
Are you aware of any professional athletes with hearing loss? You may have heard of Derrick Coleman, who was the first legally deaf offensive player in the NFL. Or perhaps you watched a baseball game played by Curtis Pride, who, in 1993, was the first legally deaf player in the MLB in over 50 years.
While these athletes and others are inspiring in how they have overcome obstacles in order to succeed, the number of well-known athletes with hearing loss is sadly few. This is due at least in part to the difficulties players with hearing loss often encounter while participating in sports.
Imagine for a moment the challenges you might encounter in team sports if you are deaf or hard of hearing. You may not be able to hear the referee’s whistle to indicate that play should start or stop. You may also miss other important signals, such as the start of a race. You may not be able to understand what your coach tells you in a huddle or from the sidelines. You may not be able to effectively communicate with your teammates.
Due to these difficulties and others, children with hearing loss are often left out of team sports, or they may eventually give up and withdraw because of the challenges these sports present. This can be damaging to the child’s self-confidence, friendships, social activity, physical health, and overall development.
If you have a child with hearing loss or if you coach a team sport, it is important to know how children with hearing loss can be better included. Here are a few tips to help you include your child with hearing loss in team sports: If you have a child with hearing loss:
Communicate with your child’s coach about your child’s needs and what might be most helpful to your child.
Ask whether trained support staff for children with sensory challenges are available. While support staff may not be available for the entire league, there may be sufficient resources to provide support staff for one or two teams.
Show your child’s coach or the team’s support staff how your child’s hearing device works.
Consider becoming a coach for your child’s team. Become involved in your child’s school sports by attending athletic department meetings and encouraging the coaches to become better educated on how to assist players with differing needs.
If you are coaching a team that includes one or more children with hearing loss:
Reach out to parents and ask how you can best support their child. Express a willingness to learn.
Understand that each situation is different. A solution that works for one child with hearing loss may not work for another. Keep in mind that other needs may be present on the team as well, such as children with attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and more.
Encourage team members to ask questions to learn how to better support the player with hearing loss. Promote respectful conversations about their challenges and solutions.
Face the players when you speak to them.
If you show a video, especially one with poor audio, provide a transcript.
When you discuss plays on the drawing board, add clear text labels.
After reviewing a game or discussing other important information, provide a written note detailing what you discussed
These simple tips can play a big role in making team sports an easier and more enjoyable experience for all children.
To learn more about how to accommodate and advocate for children with hearing loss, we welcome you to contact our hearing practice today. We are eager to assist you!