Tinnitus is very frustrating for a number of reasons. First, it’s entirely subjective experience for those affected, so you can’t just show anyone what the ringing sounds like, how loud it the ringing is, or how bothersome the ringing may be at any given time.
Second, there is yet to be any true objective way to measure tinnitus. You can’t simply go into the doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed with the condition. It’s a bit less cut and dry than that.
Third, as of today we don’t understand exactly how tinnitus works. Because of this, our understanding of the causes and treatment options is less than perfected.
This can all be frustrating of course for those affected, but you should not feel hopeless. In fact, despite the many possible reasons for frustration, many people end up showing noticeable improvements regarding their symptoms when choosing the right treatment plan.
Throughout this article, we’ll be discussing one treatment option in particular, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). To have a firm understanding of how it works, we will first have to look into 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
As noted above, let’s continue to break TRT down into two parts. The first part we will be covering will be addressing the actual sound tinnitus produces, and the second part will be dealing with the emotional and behavioral repercussions that those affected may be faced with.
Sound therapy is the use of external sound to “mask” the internal sound of tinnitus. This mitigates tinnitus on a number of levels.
First and foremost, the external sound can either partially or completely cover up the sounds tinnitus produces. Beyond simply this, however, it can also divert the patient’s attention while the sound is being played. Doing so can provide immediate relief for the patient in their battle with tinnitus.
Second, 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.
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 in theory any sound can provide a masking effect to cover up the sounds of tinnitus, 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.