In our February/March 2018 issue, we published an article, “The Lost Sounds of Silence,” in which Alison Main explored the harm caused by noise pollution from various sources.

A review published last month in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology lends credence to the idea that one of these sources, white noise machines, may be doing more harm than good, especially for people with tinnitus.

According to lead author Dr. Mouna Attarha:

“In the past 50 years, brain scientists have learned a great deal about brain plasticity—how sensory and other inputs change the brain chemically, structurally, and functionally. Increasing evidence shows that the brain rewires in a negative manner when it is fed random information, such as white noise. Neural inhibition (the ability to filter unimportant information) is reduced; temporal integration times (how quickly the brain processes rapidly changing signals) lengthen; and cortical representations (how information is represented in the brain) lose precision.”


The study’s authors go on to urge the use of structured sounds—like speech and music—to mask tinnitus symptoms, rather than the unstructured sound produced by white noise machines.