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Tinnitus Retraining Therapy


Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (Audiology Habituation)


Directive counseling provides intensive, individualized education regarding the causes and effects of tinnitus on the ear, the brain, and the coping mechanism.

Low-level sound generators produce broadband noise via hearing aid type devices at a soft enough level so that the brain perceives both the noise and the tinnitus. Eventually, the brain may relearn a pattern that will de-emphasize the importance of the tinnitus. These devices also may be helpful in desensitizing patients who are overly sensitive to sound.


Acoustic Therapy

The use of an externally produced sound to either cover up or in some way inhibit or alter production of tinnitus can offer relief for some. There are six main methods of acoustic stimulation.


A sound generator, sometimes called tinnitus masker: an ear-level electronic device housed in a hearing aid case that produces a white noise.

A tinnitus instrument: a combination hearing aid and sound generator.

Hearing aids: help to amplify speech as well as environmental noise and thus stimulate areas of the ear and brain that otherwise may not be receiving adequate stimulation because of the hearing loss.

A tabletop or portable sound generator: these can be purchased at certain electronic suppliers such as the Sharper Image.

Home masking: such as the use of electric fans, radios or television.

Music therapy (see below).


Unfortunately, some tinnitus sufferers find that masking noise may merely be a substitute of one annoying sound for another. It is thus better to try to relegate the annoyance of tinnitus to the background of one’s consciousness through habituation or retraining methods.


Music Therapy

Many patients find that music, particularly classical passages that don’t contain wide variations in loudness (amplitude) can be both soothing to the limbic system (the emotional processor in the brain that is commonly negatively linked to a patient’s reaction to tinnitus) and stimulating to the auditory cortex. If a hearing loss is present, it may be necessary to alter the spectrum of the music so that the cortical neurons receive appropriate stimulation.


Amplification

The use of hearing aids and a combination of hearing aids and maskers are often effective ways to minimize tinnitus. While it is not clear whether hearing aids help by amplifying background sounds that can mask out the tinnitus or by actually altering the production of tinnitus, most hearing aid wearers report at least some reduction in their tinnitus. This may be due to the reduction in contrast between tinnitus and silence, or because of the new stimulation provided to the brain.


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