What is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy?
Often known as “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus is a relatively common health condition that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. The condition causes people to “hear” sounds that have no physical basis – ringing is one of the most common of these sounds, but buzzing, clicking, beeping, and whistling are also prevalent.
For individuals with tinnitus, secondary symptoms can be particularly challenging. The sounds they “hear” can interrupt their ability to concentrate, which impacts both their ability to work as they usually would and to socialize. Insomnia can also be problematic, and for many individuals, their mental health and overall well-being also deteriorate as a result of living with tinnitus.
Given the issues that tinnitus can cause, it is essential that people with the condition can access effective treatment. Thankfully, there are several different treatment options available that can help to provide relief, with tinnitus retraining therapy being one of the most popular of all.
What is tinnitus retraining therapy?
Tinnitus retraining therapy (commonly abbreviated to TRT) is a tinnitus treatment that seeks to address tinnitus in a holistic manner that encompasses both the “sounds” that people with the condition hear, as well as the disruption and emotional concerns these sounds can create. This dual approach ensures that all aspects of tinnitus, and the issues it can cause, are effectively managed.
There are two different strands to TRT:
• Sound therapy
• Cognitive behavioral therapy
What is sound therapy?
The first issue an audiologist treating a patient for tinnitus must address is the sounds that tinnitus causes.
Primarily, sound therapy tends to involve an element of tinnitus masking. The idea behind this is to introduce external sounds that “block out” the sounds produced by tinnitus. Most commonly, these external sounds are introduced via hearing aids with tinnitus masking capabilities, through headphones and other types of devices are available. With the tinnitus sounds effectively masked by the external noise, the condition becomes more manageable and easier to ignore.
The second aspect of sound therapy is to effectively try to train the brain to ignore unimportant sounds – which in this case, would be the sounds produced by the tinnitus. The human ear actually ignores a vast number of sounds every day; for example, if you are sitting in a room with a fan, then you won’t really “hear” the fan unless you specifically focus on it – your brain will simply filter the noise out into the background, leaving you free to divert your full attention elsewhere. The sound of the fan has not disappeared; it’s just that your brain has deemed it unimportant, and thus not worth receiving specific attention. The goal of sound therapy is to try and encourage the brain to dismiss the sounds produced by tinnitus as background noise that can also be ignored.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
The second aspect of TRT is cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT). With the sounds that an individual hears controlled and managed via sound therapy, CBT focuses on the impact that tinnitus can have on a person’s emotional and mental health.
Understandably, many people who experience tinnitus will find the sounds they hear extremely troubling – anger, depression, and increased anxiety are all incredibly common responses to what is, at heart, a fairly mystifying condition. These responses can significantly harm an individual’s well-being; an issue that CBT, as part of TRT, seeks to address.
The goal of CBT is to essentially assist the patient in changing how they respond to the sounds of tinnitus. If an individual can come to view the noises they hear as mildly troubling, or barely worthy of recognition, then their quality of life can improve dramatically. To achieve this goal, an individual will usually undergo therapy that helps to identify their tinnitus triggers and work towards reducing the stress response to tinnitus.
Why are both sound therapy and CBT beneficial?
It is possible to undertake sound therapy and CBT separately, but tinnitus is such a challenging condition that a singular approach may not necessarily yield results. After all, just removing the sounds while wearing masking devices does not account for periods when wearing a masking device may not be possible, and CBT alone does not address the disruptive impact the sounds can produce. The reason TRT tends to be so successful is that it sees both concerns as two sides of the same coin, and seeks to provide a complete treatment that helps individuals to find the relief they need.
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