Tinnitus is unfortunately a common condition, affecting an estimated 50 million Americans over 50. Tinnitus sufferers hear constant sounds in their heads that others can’t hear such as buzzing, clicking, ringing, humming or whistling. Tinnitus is often known by its slang name – ringing-in-the-ears. Sometimes, the tinnitus is a minor nuisance, while in severe cases it is terribly debilitating. Persistent tinnitus often leads to other problems such as sleeping disorders, anxiety, fatigue, and depression.
Some forms of tinnitus respond well to treatment with hearing aids which are programmed to filter and suppress the ringing or buzzing sounds. In this article, we want to introduce you to an alternative tinnitus treatment known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). TRT can enable people suffering from tinnitus to use a combination of mechanisms to “retrain” their brains to reduce their perception of these sounds, eliminate their negative reactions to them, and eventually end their perception of them.
Discovered in the 1980s by neuroscientist Pawel Jastreboff, TRT challenges the assumptions of many audiologists that tinnitus is a physical disorder due to ear damage that cannot be fixed. While damage to the ears – for example, exposure to loud noises for long periods of time – is often a cause of tinnitus, Jastreboff drew upon his training in neuroscience to propose an alternative behavioral neuro-physical model that explained the condition. Firmly believing that the condition could be fixed, he focused his efforts on developing behavior modification techniques.
The basic assumption of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is that the tinnitus is not a disease per se, but a reflection of hyperacusis – a person’s innate ability to hear normal sounds generated by the auditory system that others cannot hear. In other words, it’s not the sounds themselves that are a problem, just the distress and over reaction to hearing them. Only people who have been trained in how to administer the TRT training can lead the counseling sessions, which use precise and individually-tuned techniques of training and sound therapy to teach people to eliminate their over reactions to the sounds they don’t want to hear, and instead focus on sounds they do want to hear.
Counselors trained in TRT have had remarkable successes helping patient eliminate their negative reactions to the sounds they hear, thereby relieving distress.