sounds waves entering an ear illustration

Can phase cancellation treat tinnitus?

Tinnitus is phantom noise perception. It is a sound that is heard without coming from the outside world. It can be a ring, buzz, hiss, hum, chirp, music or other sounds. It is experienced by at least 50 million Americans. Patients’ reactions to tinnitus range from a minor nuisance to a major disruption in daily life and severe distress.

Is this normal? No, however, tinnitus rarely signals a dangerous health condition. It is a problem if it bothers you. There is no shortage of available tinnitus treatments available to the public. Not all are based on good science, and not all are effective.

All effective tinnitus treatments involve the use of sound. We have been asked if noise canceling headphones that use “phase cancellation” can neutralize tinnitus. This is a reasonable question. Sounds in the air are waves that have “phase.” Every pulse of a sound has space behind it before the next pulse. Noise cancellation emits sounds that match outside noise, but are 180 degrees out of phase. The peaks and valleys of the sound are flattened. Sound is reduced.

Tinnitus, however, is not a sound flying through the air. It is a signal along the hearing nerve that does not come from a real sound. It is a phantom. The brain only receives nerve impulses. Nerve impulses do not have phase in the same way sound waves do. There are no waves to cancel. This technology, unfortunately, will not be of use for tinnitus.

The good news, however, is modern techniques are available to us to help you manage your tinnitus. Good tinnitus treatment is based on neuroscience. Do not waste your money and time on supplements or “miracle cures.” There is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment plan. The first step is a thorough diagnostic examination. This will help us work with you to develop good strategies without medication or surgery. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.