Tinnitus can be frustrating. You’re the only one who can hear the ear ringing, and it’s difficult to describe to someone what the ringing sounds like, how loud it is. In addition, there’s no way to measure tinnitus, so you can’t take a test to get diagnosed.
Plus, doctors still don’t understand exactly how tinnitus works, so the causes and treatment options still remain a bit of a mystery. But all is not hopeless. In fact, despite the frustrations, many people do show significant improvements in their symptoms with the right treatment plan.
In this article, we’ll be discussing one treatment option in particular, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), that has proven to be effective. To understand how it works, you first have to understand the two parts of tinnitus.
The Two Parts of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external sound source is present. It has 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.
The effective treatment of tinnitus requires addressing both parts, which is the basis of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.
Sound therapy uses an external sound to “cover up” the internal sound of tinnitus. By doing so this helps to lessen the symptoms of tinnitus across a number of levels.
First, the external sound can help cover up the underlying tinnitus sound. Second, sound therapy can result in what is called “habituation.” Habituation occurs when the brain is slowly trained over time to categorize the tinnitus as an unimportant noise that should be ignored by the brain. Third, the use of specialized sound minimizes the hyperactivity in the brain thought to be the underlying mechanism of tinnitus. This is called “neuromodulation.”
Sound therapy can be delivered through special sound masking devices, headphones, and even hearing aids. Medical-grade devices, in fact, can deliver customized sounds that are programmed to match the individual characteristics of each patient’s unique case of tinnitus. (At Hearing Health Solutions, we can help you select the right device and sound.)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In addition to sound therapy, TRT also includes behavioral therapies that address the second, emotional component of tinnitus. Studies have found no correlation between the loudness/pitch of tinnitus and patient-reported distress. Whether or not tinnitus is viewed as no-big-deal, slightly bothersome, or devastating is dependent on the cognitive/behavioral response of the patient. And this is good news because it means that you can learn various techniques to reduce the anxiety caused by tinnitus (which itself can make the tinnitus worse).
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 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.