Relaxing sounds could help people going through cataract surgery to feel less anxious, according to a small new study.
Researchers at Chiang Mai University in Thailand found that exposing patients undergoing cataract surgery -- which is often performed with just local anesthesia, meaning the patient is awake while the surgery is being conducted -- to binaural beats helped them to feel less anxious and to slow their heart rates. Binaural beats are comprised of two tones at different frequencies, which spur brainwaves that are known to reduce pain and promote relaxation. For this study, researchers exposed patients to binaural beats along with music and natural noises.
More than 3 million people in the United States undergo cataract surgery every year, making it the most common kind of surgery in the country, according to the University of Iowa.
Even though the surgery is quick, many patients still report anxiety -- one past study showed that anywhere from 3 to 16.2 percent of people undergoing cataract surgery with just topical or retrobulbar anesthesia said that "they were frightened by the visual experience of the procedure," the University of Iowa reported. This anxiety has prompted research on methods to alleviate patient stress (one past study even suggested that handholding could help).
"Our study shows significant emotional and physiological benefits from adding binaural beats to music therapy for cataract surgery patients," researcher Dr. Pornpattana Vichitvejpaisal, M.D., said in a statement. "This provides a simple, inexpensive way to improve patients' health outcomes and satisfaction with their care."
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be regarded as preliminary.
The study included 141 people in Thailand, who were grouped by cataract type and age, among other factors. They were split up into groups of 47 -- one group listened to the binaural beats and music with the natural noises, the second group listened only to the music with the natural noises, and the third group didn't listen to anything at all.
Researchers found that those who listened to the binaural beats plus the music and natural noises had a slower heart rate and decreased anxiety, compared with those who didn't listen to anything. And both the binaural beats and music group and the music-only group experienced lower blood pressure than the no-noise group.
Another small study published in 2007 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also showed that listening to binaural beats for 60 days seemed to alleviate anxiety, as self-reported by eight study participants.