What Exactly is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)?

Tinnitus is unfortunately a widespread problem, affecting approximately 50 million people in the U.S. over 50. Those who have tinnitus hear continuous sounds that no one around them hears. These sounds vary from high-pitched ringing or whistling sounds, buzzing, or rapid clicking sounds similar to crickets chirping. Sometimes, the tinnitus is a small annoyance, while in serious cases it is terribly debilitating. Persistent tinnitus often leads to other problems such as sleeping disorders, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.

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). Using a combination of mechanisms, TRT “retrains” tinnitus sufferers and gives them the ability to reduce their perceptions of the noises they hear, so they no longer react to the sounds negatively, and thus eventually cease being bothered by 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. This allowed him to disregard previous notions that the condition couldn’t be fixed, and focus his attention on developing behavioral modification techniques that could, indeed, fix it.

At the core of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is the proposition that tinnitus is not a disease in and of itself. Instead, Jastreboff believes that tinnitus is a manifestation of hyperacusis which is defined as an over-sensitivity to certain frequency ranges of sounds. A person with severe hyperacusis has difficulty tolerating everyday sounds. In his theory, it is not the buzzing sounds themselves that are a problem, and the distress they cause some people is due to an over reaction to the sounds. During TRT counseling sessions – performed only by those who have been trained in the technique – a precise and individual combination of teaching and sound therapy are used to enable tinnitus sufferers to use their own cognitive functions to shut down their over reactions to the disturbing sounds, and focus more on the desirable sounds they want to hear.

Over the years, TRT counselors have had success with helping people to overcome their conditioned negative responses to the sounds they hear, and thus eliminate the distress they feel at hearing them.

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