Tinnitus can be baffling for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a very subjective condition, so you can’t just display to anyone what the ringing sounds like to you, how loud it the sound is, or how bothersome the tinnitus may be at any given time.
Second, there is yet to be one true, objective way to measure tinnitus. You can’t, for example, walk into the doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed with the condition.
Third, we still don’t exactly understand how tinnitus works, so the medical field’s understanding of all the possible causes and treatment options remain less than ideal.
This can all be extremely frustrating for those affected, but those people should not feel hopeless. Despite the many possible reasons for frustrations, many people end up showing significant improvements in their symptoms when paired with the right treatment plan.
Throughout this article, we’ll be discussing one treatment in particular, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). This treatment option has proven to be rather effective. First, to understand how it works, you we need to go over the two parts of tinnitus.
The Two Parts of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound when no external sound source is present. Essentially, there is a sensation of ringing when there is no “true” external ringing noise. We can then 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.
To effectively treat tinnitus, it requires addressing both parts. This essentially is the underlying rationale of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Building on what we just went over, let’s continue to break TRT down into two parts. The first part will be addressing the actual sound tinnitus produces, and the second part will be dealing with the emotional and behavioral repercussions a patient may run into while dealing with tinnitus.
Sound therapy is the use of an external sound to “mask” the internal sound of tinnitus. This treatment is proving to be very encouraging, and mitigates tinnitus on a number of levels.
Not only can the external sound can partially or completely cover the tinnitus sounds, but it can also divert the patient’s attention while the sound is being played. Doing so can provide immediate relief for the patient and reduce the effects of tinnitus dramatically.
Sound therapy can result in what is called “habituation,” where the brain is trained over time to reclassify the tinnitus as an unimportant sound that should be ignored.
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 has both short-term and long-term benefits, and works 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 any sound can theoretically provide the 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 component of tinnitus. In ways, this is the more critical component, as tinnitus can trigger strong emotional reactions like anxiety, depression, and anger.
Research in this area has led to some surprising conclusions. For example, 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 largely dependent on the cognitive/behavioral response of the patient.
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.