Tinnitus can be frustrating for a wide variety of reasons. First and foremost, 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 one way to measure tinnitus. Unfortunately, so you can’t, for example, go into the doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed with tinnitus.
Third, we still don’t exactly know how tinnitus works. Our understanding of the causes and treatment options remain less than perfect, so it leaves those affected in a tough situation.
This can all be frustrating, of course, but those who are affected should not feel hopeless. In fact, despite the many possible reasons for frustrations, many people go on to show significant improvements in their tinnitus symptoms when paired with the right treatment plan.
Throughout this article, we’ll be discussing one option in particular, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). To understand how it works, we will first need to go over 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 employs the use of an external sound to “cover up” the internal sound of tinnitus. This can help to alleviate the tinnitus on a number of levels, and can quickly give relief to the patient.
First, the external sound can partially or completely cover the tinnitus sounds, and can also divert the patient’s attention, while the sound is being played. This can provide immediate relief.
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 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 noise can in theory can provide a 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 for your individual needs.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In addition to sound therapy, TRT also employs behavioral therapies that address the second, emotional component of tinnitus. In many ways, this is the more critical component, as tinnitus can trigger strong emotional reactions like anxiety, depression, and anger in patients. This can have very far-reaching effects on the lives of many.
Research in this emotional 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; in terms of the internal ringing noise tinnitus produces, and the mental agony tinnitus can sometimes wreak on those affected.
While there are currently no known cures for tinnitus, you can help to manage the symptoms with the right plan and some perseverance. As the 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.