by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man wrote:
I have tinnitus. Tonight I was surfing the web and found a site that played pure tones at various frequencies when you clicked on the corresponding buttons. To my surprise, most of my high-pitched tinnitus went away for a while after listening to the higher-frequency sounds! Does this make sense to you? Might this sort of thing be a treatment for people?
Cool, huh? What you have discovered for yourself is a phenomenon called “residual inhibition”. Residual inhibition occurs when you mask your tinnitus with a frequency of sound that closely matches the pitch of your tinnitus and then turn the sound off. At that point, for numbers of people such as yourself, your tinnitus either disappears, or is greatly reduced in volume. This effect typically only lasts a few seconds, but in some people it can last for several minutes, hours, days or rarely, even permanently eliminate their tinnitus. (Such blessed relief!)
The closer you match the pitch of the sound to your tinnitus, typically the more your tinnitus is reduced, and the longer the residual inhibition lasts. Obviously, this works best for people whose tinnitus consists of a single, constant frequency of sound.
Thus, if your tinnitus is a constant tone, and you listen to a pure tone sound of the same frequency for 30 seconds or a minute, often you will find that your tinnitus disappears (or is greatly reduced) for several seconds (typically 30 to 60) immediately after you turn the tone off.
There have been several commercial attempts to use residual inhibition to help people that suffer from their tinnitus. One product that showed early initial promise was the Quiescence tinnitus management software, but unfortunately, it seems to have fallen by the wayside. Even so, researchers are still studying residual inhibition, trying to understand more of how it works. Perhaps, in the future, they will discover a way to make the effect last long enough that it becomes a useful treatment for tinnitus.