Did You Hear That?: Learning to Live With Tinnitus
As many as 17% of us have experienced tinnitus. Ringing in the ears, unexplained noises that only you can hear. You hear it, or feel it in your head, even though there's no real source of noise out there. It's the kind of thing that'll drive you nuts and does for those who have serious cases of tinnitus. It gets so bad that these people cant work or lead normal lives.
Imagine a ringing in your ear that never goes away. Ever. Day and night. It might unnerve you, right? You bet it would and that's the problem. People with tinnitus may experience ear pain but, along with that, its normal for these patients to feel anxious and stressed all of the time. Can you blame them? In fact, many people with tinnitus are treated for stress and anxiety. These medications may treat some symptoms but they don't treat the root cause of tinnitus.
Natural hearing takes place when sound waves make their way through the ear canal to the ear drum, which vibrates in synch with the sound waves. This sound energy, in turn, is ultimately delivered to the cochlea, a snail-shaped, fluid filled organ that translates sound waves into electrical impulses that are sent to the hearing centers of the brain for processing. From sound wave to brain wave is almost instantaneous, but what if there is no sound, but the cochlea is still sending signals to the brain. You get the idea.
Tinnitus is caused by lots of different conditions: certain illnesses, the natural aging process, trauma to the delicate mechanism of hearing within the ear, a build-up of ear wax, caffeine, even a benign tumor all of these can create a ringing in the ears.
In many cases, tinnitus goes away all by itself. In some cases, it doesn't. So now what?
TRT stands for Tinnitus Retraining Therapy and it's based on the work of Professor Pawel J. Jastreboff, the father of TRT who defines tinnitus as a phantom auditory perception perceived only by the person. Dr. Jastreboff and many other researchers have discovered Tinnitus Retraining Therapy eliminates the discomfort caused by ringing in the ears in as many as 84% of patients. According to Medical News Today, [TRT] is the treatment that has the highest success rate currently. And with a success rate of up to 84%, TRT offers hope to the millions of people who experience tinnitus.
How Does TRT Work?
Since the causes of tinnitus can be so varied, understanding the source of the problem doesn't offer much in the way of effective treatment, unfortunately. Surgery has been tried with little success and no medications are available to treat a problem that's shrouded in mystery.
TRT takes a completely different, multi-disciplinary approach using sound therapy (ear) and neuropsychological (brain) programming to assist the patient in adapting to the noise created by tinnitus. Here's the program.
The problem occurs between the auditory canal (the ear canal) and the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound stimuli from the outside world. The central nervous system (CNS), comprised of the brain and nerves, causes the ringing in the ears and, since there is no cure for the CNS problem, professionals have developed a program that enables the patient to become accustomed to the ringing and pinging.
Dr. Teresa Heitzmann, a hearing specialist at University Hospital in Navarre, Spain, describes TRT as getting accustomed to something ceasing to be conscious of the presence of the stimulus, something which is achieved if we learn to consider it [the sound] irrelevant or not to take notice of. It is something similar to the clothes we wear normally we are not aware of what we have on and it does not bother us.
Dr. Jasterboff's Tinnitus Retraining Therapy has demonstrated that the central nervous system is somewhat flexible in its ability to learn even at older ages. The fact that tinnitus is an annoyance for some, but not for others who experience the same symptoms, indicates that people bothered by the condition can be retrained to basically ignore the ringing sound through therapy that consists of therapeutic advice and the introduction of additional sound to mask the ringing sensation.
The therapeutic advice consists of an explanation of the problem and the assurance that the condition is legitimate, i.e., I'm not making this up or imagining it. It's real! That, in itself, provides some measure of comfort to tinnitus sufferers.
The objective of this neuropsychological therapy is to minimize the importance of the ringing sounds and to make the patient more aware of external sounds even in quiet environments. For many patients, this retraining eliminates the negative feelings associated with tinnitus, in turn, lessening the social discomfort the patient experiences.
In effect, this psychotherapy causes the hearing system to disconnect from the hearing centers of the brain to the degree necessary to distract the patient. This aspect of treatment is designed to minimize the importance of the ringing sound and train the patient to, in effect, ignore it and the discomfort it causes.
The second tactic employed during TRT came about through research showing that hearing sensitivity increases during periods of silence, making that ringing sound all the more obvious and all the more annoying. However, when other sound is present the brain (and the patient) become less aware of the effects of tinnitus. The sound therapy aims at helping the patient get used to the tinnitus by incorporating external sound in such a way that silence is always avoided.
In other words, the ringing sound is masked by other sounds from the listener's environment. Now, how long does this desensitizing therapy take? Well, it depends on several factors including the length of time the patient has experienced tinnitus, the psychology of the patient, personal circumstances (a noisy work environment), age and illness.
All of these factors can play a role in both the onset of tinnitus and the patient's ability to block out the ringing sounds through sound and psychological therapies. Today, it can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months for the tinnitus sufferer to feel relief from the therapy. However, it can take longer and some patients may require therapy for a much longer period of time. To help develop lowered sensitivity to the sound produced by tinnitus, hearing professionals recommend five or six visits to a hearing specialist each year during the course of treatment.
Does TRT Really Work?
According to a recent study performed at the University Hospital (of Navarre) by Dr. Heitzmann, between 80 and 84% of those who underwent TRT reported less annoyance with tinnitus. Although TRT is the treatment that currently has the highest success rate, it is important to note that TRT isn't a cure. The physiological cause of the condition may still be present. However, the patient learns to ignore the symptoms caused by the underlying physical source of tinnitus.
Though the problem is fairly widespread, there is no medical treatment available no pharmacological treatment, no magic pill. And, again, surgery hasn't proved successful as a viable treatment.
However, the fact that eight out of ten patients who undergo TRT report less discomfort, indicates that there is hope for those who experience ringing in the ears. If that's you or a loved one schedule a visit with an audiologist and get started with your Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.
The sooner you begin, the sooner you'll enjoy an improved quality of life. And, after all, isn't that what really counts?