Tinnitus can be frustrating for a seemingly endless amount of reasons. First, it’s a very subjective condition. What we mean by that, is you can’t simply show anyone what the ringing sounds like, how loud the ringing may be, or how bothersome the tinnitus can get at any particular moment.
Second, there isn’t any one true, objective way to measure tinnitus. Unfortunately, you can’t just get up, go into your doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed with the condition.
Third, we still don’t have a complete understanding of how exactly tinnitus works. Therefore, our understanding of the causes and possible treatment options remain less than ideal.
When all taken into consideration, this can amount to a very frustrating situation. Those affected should not feel hopeless, though. As a matter of fact, despite the many reasons for frustration, many people go on to display significant improvements in their symptoms when paired with the right treatment plan.
Throughout this article we will discuss one treatment option in particular that has proven to be particularly effective, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Although to truly understand how it works, we will first need to go over the two parts of tinnitus.
The Two Parts to Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be defined as the perception of sound when no external sound source is present. As such, we can 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.
Unsurprisingly, the most effective treatment of tinnitus would require addressing both parts, which is the true thinking behind Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Continuing with what we just went over, let’s break TRT down into two parts; the first part addressing the actual sound tinnitus produces, and the second part dealing with the emotional and behavioral repercussions people with tinnitus may have to cope with.
Sound therapy is the use of an external sound to “mask” the internal sound of tinnitus you may be hearing. This helps to lessen the constant annoyance of tinnitus on a number of levels, and can prove to be a fast and reliable method of treatment.
First, the new external sound can partially or completely cover the tinnitus sounds. By doing so, it can divert the patient’s attention while the sound is being played. This can provide immediate relief for those affected with tinnitus.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, sound therapy can result in what is called “habituation”. This takes place when the brain is trained over time to reclassify the tinnitus sounds as an unimportant background noise that should be ignored. Over time, your brain will learn to filter it out.
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 therefore 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.
You can learn various techniques 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.