Tinnitus is widespread in the U.S. with approximately 50 million sufferers over age 50. Tinnitus sufferers hear continuous sounds in their heads that others don’t hear such as buzzing, clicking, humming, ringing or whistling. Tinnitus is commonly known by its slang name – ringing-in-the-ears. Many people “learn to cope with” their tinnitus, considering it more of an annoyance rather than a condition. However for other people, this continuous ringing in the ears leads to additional indications of stress and distress, sleep disorders, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

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.

Created by Austrian neuroscientist Pawel Jastreboff in the 1980s, Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a radically different approach to tinnitus treatment. It challenges the assumption among most audiologists that tinnitus is the result of physical ear damage which cannot be reversed. 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. Thus freed from the temptation to regard the problem as something that cannot be fixed, he set about developing behavioral modification techniques that could fix it.

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. 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.