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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 cannot hear such as buzzing, clicking, humming, ringing or whistling. Tinnitus is commonly known by its slang name – ringing-in-the-ears. For many tinnitus sufferers, this persistent barrage of noise is more of a nuisance than a disorder, but for many people it is a cause of severe distress, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.

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). TRT can enable people suffering from tinnitus to use a combination of mechanisms to “retrain” their brains to reduce their perception of these sounds, eliminate their negative reactions to them, and eventually end their perception of 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. Jastreboff has proposed an alternate model for tinnitus based on his background in behavioral neuroscience. Firmly believing that the condition could be fixed, he focused his efforts on developing behavior modification techniques.

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. In other words, it’s not the sounds themselves that are a problem, just the distress and over reaction to hearing them. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a form of individualized counseling perform by people with special training and qualifications. The sessions are very precise to each individual’s needs and aim to teach tinnitus sufferers to mentally curb their reactions to undesirable sounds by focusing on the desirable ones.

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.