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Tinnitus is sadly a prevalent condition, affecting approximately 50 million people in the U.S. over 50. People who suffer from tinnitus hear continuous sounds that no one around them can hear. These sounds vary from high-pitched ringing sounds, buzzing, or rapid clicking sounds similar to crickets chirping. For many tinnitus sufferers, this constant onslaught of noise is more of a distraction than an illness, but for many people it is a source of severe distress, creating symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, sleep disorders, 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). 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.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy was discovered in the 1980s by an Austrian neuroscientist named Pawel Jastreboff, and it is radical in the sense that it disputes the assumption that tinnitus is a disorder caused by physical damage that cannot be healed. 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. In other words, it’s not the sounds themselves that are a problem, just the distress and over reaction to hearing them. Only people who have been trained in how to administer the TRT training can lead the counseling sessions, which use precise and individually-tuned techniques of training and sound therapy to teach people to eliminate their over reactions to the sounds they don’t want to hear, and instead focus on sounds they do want to hear.

Counselors trained in TRT have had remarkable successes helping patient eliminate their negative reactions to the sounds they hear, thereby relieving distress.