Tinnitus can be frustrating for a number of reasons. First, it’s entirely subjective, so you can’t show anyone what the ringing sounds like, how loud it is, or how bothersome it is.
Second, there’s no objective way to measure tinnitus, so you can’t, for example, go into the doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed.
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 is all frustrating, of course, but 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 particularly 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. 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.
Sound therapy is the use of external sound to “mask” the internal sound of tinnitus. This mitigates tinnitus on a number of levels.
First, the newly introduced external sound can partially or completely cover up the underlying sounds of tinnitus. By doing so, it can divert the patient’s attention away from the ringing of tinnitus while the sound is being played. This can provide an immediate sense of relief from the symptoms of the patient.
Next, sound therapy can result in what is called “habituation.” Habituation occurs when the brain is slowly but surely trained over time to recategorize tinnitus as an unimportant noise that should be subconsciously ignored.
Third, the continued use of a specialized sound can help to minimize any hyperactivity in the brain, which is thought to be the underlying mechanism of tinnitus. This is called “neuromodulation.”
It can be concluded that sound therapy has both short-term and long-term benefits for patients and can work across multiple levels to help alleviate the severity of your tinnitus symptoms. Sound therapy can be delivered through special sound masking devices, headphones, and even hearing aids.
While it is true that any sound could theoretically provide a desired masking effect over tinnitus, specialized medical-grade devices deliver customized noises programmed to match the specific characteristics of each patient’s tinnitus. Your individual hearing care professional can help you select the right device and sound.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In tandem with sound therapy, TRT also makes use of behavioral therapies which help to address the second, emotional part to tinnitus. In many ways, this is the most critical component, as tinnitus can in many cases trigger emotional reactions like anxiety, depression, and anger. Over time, these symptoms can become nearly unbearable for those affected.
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.