Tinnitus can be discouraging for a wide variety number of reasons. First, it’s extremely subjective, so you can’t just get up and show anyone what the ringing sounds like, how loud the ringing is, or how bothersome the ringing may be.
Second, there’s not any true, objective way to measure tinnitus. You can’t, for example, go into the doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed with the condition.
And third, we still don’t understand exactly how tinnitus works, so our understanding of the causes and treatment options remain less than perfect.
This can all be very frustrating, but do not feel hopeless. As a matter of fact, despite the possible frustrations and roadblocks, many people go on to show significant improvements in their symptoms with the right treatment plan.
Throughout this article, we’ll be discussing one promising tinnitus treatment option in particular, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). To understand how it works, first you have to understand the two parts of tinnitus.
The Two Parts of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is known as the perception of sound when no external sound source is present. We can go on to break tinnitus down into two parts:
- The actual sound – usually perceived as a ringing sound, but can also be perceived as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking sound.
- The emotional reaction – the perception of the loudness and character of the sound and its disruption to everyday life.
In order to effectively treat tinnitus, you must address both parts. Essentially, this is the underlying rationale of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Building off what we just went over, let us break TRT down into two parts; the first part addressing the “actual” sound tinnitus produces, and the other part dealing with the emotional and behavioral repercussions tinnitus may cause.
Sound therapy is the use of external sound to “mask” the internal sound of tinnitus. This helps to manage the tinnitus in a variety of ways.
First, the new external sound can partially or totally mask the underlying tinnitus sounds. By doing so, it can divert the patient’s attention. This can provide immediate relief for those affected with tinnitus.
Second, sound therapy can result in what is called “habituation,” where the brain is taught over time to reclassify the tinnitus as a frivolous sound that should be ignored.
Third, the use of a specialized sound minimizes the hyperactivity in the brain thought to be the underlying contributor of tinnitus. This is called “neuromodulation.”
It can then be decided that sound therapy has both short-term and long-term benefits, and can work on multiple levels to mitigate the severity of symptoms. Sound therapy can be delivered through special sound masking devices, headphones, and even hearing aids.
While it is true that any sound can in theory provide a masking effect, specialized medical-grade devices deliver customized sounds or music programmed to match the characteristics of the patient’s tinnitus. Your hearing care professional can help you select the right device and sound.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In addition to sound therapy, TRT also employs behavioral therapies that address the second, emotional part of tinnitus. In ways, this is the more critical component, as tinnitus can trigger strong emotional reactions like anxiety, depression, and anger.
There are various techniques that you can learn to reduce the anxiety caused by tinnitus (which itself can make the tinnitus worse). And that’s why behavioral therapy has been so effective—in fact, a 2010 meta-analysis of eight research studies showed significant improvement in depression and quality of life for patients that participated in the programs.
Behavioral therapy can be delivered one-on-one or in groups, from a clinic or over the phone or internet from the patient’s home. Therapy includes education, identifying tinnitus triggers, instituting healthy lifestyle choices to mitigate symptoms, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Take Action and Silence Your Tinnitus
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is effective because it leads to habituation on both fronts, both in terms of the actual sound and in terms of the emotional and behavioral responses.
While there is no known cure for tinnitus, you can mitigate the symptoms with the right plan and some perseverance. As your tinnitus is masked and the brain is trained to ignore it, you’ll be able to better cope with the sounds and improve your quality of life.