Tinnitus can be frustrating for many reasons. First, it’s extremely subjective, so you aren’t able to show anyone what the ringing sounds like, how loud it may be, or how bothersome it may be.
Second, there’s no objective way to measure the extent of one’s tinnitus. Unfortunately you can’t, just simply go into your nearest doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed with the condition.
Third, we still don’t quite understand how tinnitus works. As such, our understanding of the causes and treatment options regarding the condition remain less than ideal.
This can all add up to be a lot of frustration, but those who are affected with the condition should not feel hopeless. Despite the possible frustrations, many people go on to show noticeable improvements in their tinnitus symptoms when given the right treatment plan.
In this article, we’ll be talking about one treatment option in particular, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). This treatment option has proven to be particularly effective, however to understand how it works, we will 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. 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.
The effective treatment of tinnitus therefore requires addressing both parts, which is the underlying rationale of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Let’s 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.
Sound therapy makes use of an external sound to disguise the internal sound of tinnitus. This can go on to lessen the tinnitus on a number of levels.
How does sound therapy work? First, the external sound can either partially or completely cover the tinnitus sounds. By doing so, it can go on to divert the patient’s attention while the sound is being played. This can provide immediate relief for the patient and can lessen many of the most nagging parts of tinnitus.
Second, sound therapy can end up resulting in what is called “habituation”. This is where the brain is trained over time to reclassify the tinnitus as an unimportant sound that should be ignored. Essentially this is the end goal of sound therapy. Once habituation is achieved, the tinnitus is under control.
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 have short-term and long-term benefits, and can work across multiple levels to lessen 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.