Tinnitus can be an unbelievably frustrating condition for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s an entirely subjective experience. What that means, is you can’t exactly show anyone what the constant barrage of ringing sounds like, how loud the tinnitus is, or how bothersome the tinnitus can be.
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 and foremost, the newly introduced external sound can either partially or completely cover up the sounds of tinnitus. By doing so, it can also divert the patient’s attention away from the underlying tinnitus while the sound is being played. This can provide an immediate sense relief for the patient and is an extremely encouraging route of treatment.
Secondly, sound therapy can eventually go on to result in what is called “habituation.” This occurs when the brain is trained over a period of time to re-categorize the sounds of tinnitus as an unimportant noise which should be ignored. When all is said and done, habituation is the end goal of any tinnitus treatment option.
Third, the use of specialized sound minimizes the hyperactivity in the brain thought to be the underlying mechanism of tinnitus. This is called “neuromodulation.”
It can be decided then that sound therapy can result in both short-term and long-term benefits by working across a multitude of levels to help lessen the severity of symptoms. Sound therapy can be delivered through special sound masking devices, headphones, and even hearing aids.
While it is true that any sound can in theory 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.
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.
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.