Tinnitus can be maddening for any number of reasons. First, it’s a very subjective condition, so you can’t show anyone what the ringing sounds like, how loud it is, or how bothersome it is.
Second, there’s no accepted, objective way to measure tinnitus. As of today, you can’t for example, go into the doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, and get diagnosed with tinnitus.
And third, we still don’t understand exactly how the condition works, so our understanding of the causes and treatment options remain less than ideal.
This is all frustrating, of course, but not a hopeless situation for those affected. In fact, despite the frustrations, many people do report significant improvements in their symptoms when prescribed the right treatment plan.
In this piece, we’ll be discussing one tinnitus treatment option in particular, known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). To understand how it works, you 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 – 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 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 works by making use of external sound to mask the internal sound of tinnitus. This mitigates tinnitus on a number of levels and can help to immediately treat the symptoms of tinnitus.
Immediately, the external sound can partially or completely cover the tinnitus sounds. By doing so, it can divert the patient’s attention. This can provide immediate relief from the constant ringing.
Second, sound therapy can result in what is called “habituation,” where the brain is reprogrammed 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 advantages, 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.
In theory, any sound can provide a masking effect, however, specialized medical-grade devices deliver customized sounds programmed to match the characteristics of an individual patient’s tinnitus. A 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 many aspects, this is the most critical component of the treatment, as tinnitus can trigger strong emotional reactions like anxiety, depression, and anger.
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 intimate, 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 a reliable treatment method because it leads to habituation on both fronts. In terms of the actual sound and in terms of the emotional and behavioral responses, the tinnitus is addressed and treated.
While there is no known cure for tinnitus, you can help to alleviate the symptoms when prescribed the right plan, and show a bit of perseverance. Over time your tinnitus can be masked and the brain is trained to ignore it. By doing so, you will be able to better cope with the annoying sounds tinnitus is known for and improve your quality of life.