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Tinnitus is sadly a common problem, affecting approximately 50 million people in the U.S. over 50. Tinnitus causes those who have it to hear continuous sounds “in their heads” that those around them cannot hear – buzzing or roaring sounds, high-pitched whistling or ringing, or rapid clicking similar to the sound of crickets. Sometimes, the tinnitus is a small nuisance, while in serious cases it is horribly debilitating. Constant tinnitus often leads to other disorders such as anxiety, sleeping disorders, 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). The concept behind TRT is to retrain the brain to reduce sensitivity to the tinnitus noises. The idea is to lower the perceptions of the sounds and reduce negative reactions to the sounds.

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.

According to Jastreboff’s model, tinnitus is not a disease or condition in itself, but a function of hyperacusis – the ability of some people to become aware of normal sounds generated by the auditory system that most people filter out or are unaware of. Jastreboff reasons that the true problem for tinnitus sufferers is the over-reaction and hyper-sensitivity to the ringing or buzzing sounds, not the sounds themselves. 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.

TRT counselors have had remarkable success over the years in enabling patients to overcome their conditioned negative responses to tinnitus, thus enabling them to eliminate the distress that they feel.