The term tinnitus maskers was given to audio devices that can provide the sufferers of tinnitus or Meniere's disease a sound that may reduce their attention to the noise of their own tinnitus, or cover the tinnitus completely.
Tinnitus masking can be induced by environmental sources such as water falls, rain, wind or sea waves. Artificial sound generators such as electric engines discharge of air from a wheel, fan or leakage of water from a tap or tube, may be considered tinnitus maskers too.
The degree of relieve of the tinnitus is the criteria for the effectiveness of the tinnitus masker.
Tinnitus masker is a type of sound therapy. It is considered a device for tinnitus management, but not as a curative treatment for tinnitus.
It may help the patient by reduction of his attention to the tinnitus, complete covering of its sound or just enabling him a better quality of life.
This background sound may reduce the attention to the tinnitus itself, help in attempts to fall asleep, improve the ability to focus on reading or induce a better general feeling of the sufferer.
The mechanism of tinnitus masking is unknown. The most ancient account of masking sound is documented in the Talmud.
King Shaul bad mood
I suspect that even before that, the Bible ("Old testament") tells about masking. When King Shaul, who was the first king of Israel, suffered from bad mood, he asked David to play the violin in front of him. David became later the second king of Israel.
From the Babylonian text it is impossible to know the origin of the attacks of bad mood of King Shaul, but the good response to the music played by David, is a hint that it was a masking procedure applied on a tinnitus patient.
The Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 56b), writes that a fly entered into Titus's nose and picked at his brain.
The emperor suffered seven years from tinnitus. He noticed that the noise of a blacksmith hammering was an effective masking sound that caused the ensuing tinnitus to abate. So he paid for blacksmiths to hammer nearby him.
However, the effect wore off and the insect resumed its irritation. When he died (most probably on 81 AD), his slaves dissected his head and found that there is an intra cranial insect in a size of a bird. The Talmud gives this as the cause of his death and interprets it as divine punishment for his cruelty and his provocative actions and talks against the Jewish values.
Professor Abraham Shulman and Professor Harald Feldman, in the TextBook "Tinnitus", diagnosis/treatment (1997), are writing about Aristotelian scholars, who tell about mild sound as a good masking sound. "A buzzing in the ear ceases", they said.
I am to moving to the first documented attempt to treat tinnitus by masking sound. It is very possible that many other scientists did the same, but that is what I know.
Jones and Knudsen from Los Angeles, USA (1928) tried to treat the tinnitus patients by two types of electronic sound generators: (1) Machine that presented to the ear of the patient a sound that is significantly louder then the tinnitus, in order to cause continuous suppression of the tinnitus. (2) Machine that provided a spectrum of sounds, in loudness that is weaker then the tinnitus.
The aim was to reach a relive of the tinnitus. The results were: the machine that was designed to suppress the tinnitus failed to cause continues effect. After a suppression of short duration, the tinnitus came back.
The second device was effective in a temporary relive, and the most important usage was to help the patient to have a better sleep.
Fowler (1940, 1941) did experimental work with masking and classified the patient to responders and non responders of various types. Saltzmann and Ersner (1947) reported on the relieving effect of the hearing for tinnitus patients.
The concept that an external masking sound could suppress or induce relive in the tinnitus was used by Jack Vernon (1970) to make electronic tinnitus maskers that are portable and wearable like hearing aids.
The masking effect was found to be a procedure of limited value. Usage of tinnitus maskers enables tinnitus sufferers to improve the quality of their sleep, or distract their attention to their tinnitus in silent places, when the tinnitus is the dominant noise.
The masking sound can be downloaded on CD or MP3 recordings, or played on specific bedside sound apparatus. A sound pillow can generate masking sounds that are limited to the environment of the patient.
These masker devices use soft natural sounds such as ocean surf, rainfall or synthetic sounds such as white noise, sounds of musical instrument to help the auditory system to become less sensitive to tinnitus, and promote relaxation by reducing the contrast between tinnitus sounds and background sound.
Sound software for audio studio can unify few types of sounds.
On the basis of this technology tinnitus maskers can use a combination of natural and synthetic sounds tailored or a filtered noise generator to mask the specific frequencies at which the tinnitus signal is experienced.
Some sufferers require continuous masking sound and when they stop it there is no residual inhibition. Tinnitus maskers may be manufactured in the form of wearable hearing devices or even be part of the program that is in the processor of a digital hearing aid.
The masking sound of the processor may come from a library of sounds in the memory of the device, amplification of ambient sound or low level wide band sounds such as white noise.
Attempts to re-program the brain by creating a habit of listening to the masking sound and ignoring the tinnitus were done by few audiologists.
There are audiologists who speculate that continued use of tinnitus masking can promote a neurological process known as habituation.
This is a physical process of learning, which involves neuronal re-mapping in the auditory cortex of the brain leading to desensitization of tinnitus. The promotion of habituation is the key clinical outcome of tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) approach of Pawel J. Jastreboff.
It uses a unified approach of sound therapy for tinnitus and counseling.
Today, sound therapy can be done by many electronic devices. In the internet there are many libraries of recorded sounds. There are websites that provide services of "home sound studio" with many sound channels.
A non professional user of computers can find types of sound that may mask his tinnitus or files of sound that helps him to ignore his tinnitus. The "home sound studio" can serve him in unifying the chosen files and creating an individual masking sound.
The ideal masking sound can be downloaded on any portable music player such as MP3.