The concept that an external sound could suppress perception of an internal one was first realized clinically in the mid 1970s by Dr Jack Vernon, when he reported that white noise was effective in alleviating tinnitus. Tinnitus maskers are commonly used by tinnitus sufferers when trying to sleep or relax, as it is within these quiet environments that the tinnitus is at its most noticeable.
It is widely believed that continued use of tinnitus masking can inhibit a neurological process known as habituation. This is a physical process which involves neuronal remapping in the auditory cortex of the brain leading to desensitization of tinnitus. Generally it is ill advised to fully mask the tinnitus instead the masker or noise generating device should be set just below the level of the tinnitus to promote habituation.
The promotion of habituation is the key clinical outcome of tinnitus retraining therapy which uses a combination of sound therapy and counselling. The use of sound in a clinical setting using specialist equipment can be used to completely mask tinnitus in 95% of tinnitus patients.