What is Binaural Therapy?
To understand this then it is important to understand just what ‘Binaural’ means. The word ‘Binaural’ is an adjective, and it means “relating to, or used with both ears.” In binaural therapy sessions this is usually translated to listening with both ears individually, to sounds transmitted via headphones from 2 independent sources. Although introduced as early as 1859, it was not universally recognised until 1916 when the distinguished German philosopher and psychologist Carl Stumpf wrote about the difference between dichotic and diotic listening stimulation.
It could also be classed as a form of sound therapy, although different in some aspects. The American Tinnitus Association has this to say about Sound Therapy…
“Sound therapy” is a broad term that may be used in many ways, depending on the specific product, clinical setting, or individual clinician. In general, sound therapy means the use of external noise in order to alter a patient’s perception of, or reaction to, tinnitus. Like other tinnitus treatments, sound therapies do not cure the condition, but they may significantly lower the perceived burden and intensity of tinnitus.” Credit Link: www.ata.org
What about Binaural Beats?
In a nutshell, A binaural beat is in effect an auditory illusion that is observed by the listener when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz variance between them, are presented to the listener through their individual ears simultaneously. Each ear is presented with a slightly different pure-tone frequency – say 500Hz in one and 515Hz in the other. The listener will perceive the 2 individual tones plus the auditory illusion of a third tone. This third tone is called a binaural beat (sometimes also referred to as the ‘grave harmonic’), and in this example would have a perceived pitch of 15Hz – the difference between the 2 tones presented to them.
The term ‘binaural’ was first coined by Somerville Scott Alison in 1859 after his discovery and invention of the differential stethophone.
What Is Entrainment?
The concept of entrainment was first identified in 1665 by Christiaan Huygens, although it is generally agreed it originated or ‘spun out’ from the mathematical Complex Systems Theory. In a nutshell it signifies the way that multiple oscillators behave or interact, when they are in close proximity to each other. It was first detected when 2 pendulum clocks at different motions when left overnight synchronised perfectly by morning. Likewise electrical reciprocators at different oscillations left close together, will eventually synchronise. This form of entrainment is called mechanical entrainment or cyclic synchronisation.
This works by small amounts of energy transferring between the individual components, to positively or negatively impact each other until synchronisation is achieved. Once this is achieved then the energy transference between the two or more units ceases.
What is referred to as biological entrainment can be observed naturally in fireflies or in flocks of starlings (a murmation) and other birds. You can also see an example of this in a school of fish all moving together with one purpose and in the same direction.
Neuromotor entrainment is another form which can be observed in crowds when spontaneously clapping in time to music, or snapping of the fingers and tapping the feet to a particular rhythm.
How Does Binaural Beats Combat Tinnitus?
First of all let’s look at what tinnitus actually is. It is often referred to as a sound heard in the ears like whining, rushing, buzzing, bleeping, and any number of other effects. However there is a general misconception with this description. The sounds associated with tinnitus, with the exception perhaps of pulsatile or somatosensory tinnitus, are not ‘heard’ at all. These noises are not picked up by the auditory system, but instead are noises in the brain. A better way to describe them is the way that the brain interprets the ‘sound of silence.’
To get back to somatosensory (a sensation that can occur anywhere in the body) tinnitus. These are noises which can in fact be heard by a medical practitioner using the appropriate listening device. The pulsing noise associated with pulsatile tinnitus for instance, can be caused by the twisting or partial blockage of an artery in the neck. The rushing sound is the blood squeezing through the narrow gap.
Tinnitus itself is not a disease, but rather a condition that highlights an underlying problem which could be clinical or neurological in nature.
Binaural Beats Therapy:
So with all that cleared up…How will this treatment or therapy help tinnitus sufferers overcome their condition?
A basic description of how this treatment works could be described thus…By combining binaural music or tones via headphones as described earlier in this document, and the knowledge of brainwave entrainment therapy, where the brain seeks to syndicate noise that is out of sync. The noise (or at least the brains interpretation of silence), can be neutralised. In effect the brain is trained to ignore or cancel-out the ‘sounds within.’
These binaural beats are designed to work within the frequency of your own brain, and thereafter interpret the tones as a set pattern. Shortly after activation your own brain seeks to follow this pattern – a reaction called the frequency following response.
Is sound frequency a factor?
Indeed it is, here’s why…
Human hearing is limited to frequencies from 20 – 20,000 Hz, though some humans have been known to be effected by infrasound – sound below 20 Hz. Alpha waves have a frequency in the range 7 to 13 Hz and they are associated with relaxation, daydreaming and light meditation. Beta waves on the other hand range between 14 to 30 Hz and are associated with our normal conscious state.
Theta waves with a frequency between 4 to 8 Hz are recorded in states of deep relaxation, meditation or hypnotherapy sessions, whilst Delta waves with a frequency between 1-3 Hz, are recorded during deep sleep or unconsciousness.
That’s the technical stuff! So how is this put to good use for tinnitus sufferers?
Generally speaking, the idea is to put the listener into a relaxed state using theta waves. This is done (for example) by playing a 315Hz into the left ear and simultaneously a 325Hz wave into the right ear. The 10Hz beat frequency is in the alpha range (which encourages a relaxed state) and the brain is entrained towards that direction – the perceived beat frequency. This is the frequency used in binaural beats meditation therapy for instance.
The sound played may not be a music track as such, but may be what is called ‘white noise’ the sound of rain falling or a waterfall perhaps. This is interspersed with ‘binaural beats’ or tones to reach the desired effect.
Does it work?
That is indeed the big question, and the answer I’m afraid is not straight-forward – let alone simple! Binaural beats study is still very much a ‘work in progress.’ The fact is that since tinnitus affects everyone in different ways, and has numerous or zero causes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ cure for it. However there is no doubt that for some people it is extremely effective.
Usually the binaural beats aspect of tinnitus therapy (often referred to as brain retraining therapy or brainwave entrainment), is included or at least offered as a part of any tinnitus retraining therapy program (The tinnitus Retrain program is just about to release an update – ‘Binaural Graduation Training‘. to cover this aspect of tinnitus treatment) Since this treatment is simply a question of listening to some pleasant music which may help relaxation and relieve stress (which in itself can lead to tinnitus), and there is no medication or surgery involved, why not try it out – especially if it is part of an ongoing therapy program?
Have you tried this form of therapy? Feel free to share your results/comments in the comments section below – it just may help others make their own decision.