For Elisabeth, tinnitus has become as close to her as her shadow. When she’s reading her 6-year-old granddaughter a bedtime story, that ringing in her ears is with her as if sitting on her shoulder. When she puts on her makeup in the quiet bathroom, it gets louder. The high-pitched squeal during her morning cup of coffee often makes her feel like she’s going to blow a fuse. Even a simple conversation with her husband can be difficult with the background noise.
It’s always there. She often feels she has to do backflips to hear through the constant noise, and it’s difficult to relax.
Elisabeth has tinnitus, a ringing in her ears that won’t go away. And she’s not alone.
Tinnitus impacts 45 million Americans and 9.2 million Canadians. For 26% of them, it’s similar to Beth’s experience: the tinnitus seems to overshadow everything they do.
While there is no cure for tinnitus, Beth was ecstatic to learn that researchers are continually working hard to develop more effective treatments. She’s especially interested in the promise of desensitization therapy.
A study performed by the Tinnitus Clinic on a trademarked form of this treatment called Tinnitus Desensitisation Therapy(™) showed that 90% of people who have this treatment report their tinnitus improved. But there are many versions of tinnitus retraining with most of them showing improvement in 80% or more of the people who tried it.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus isn’t considered a medical condition. It’s generally thought to be a symptom of something else. Because of this, doctors are often unable to pinpoint the specific causes for ringing of the ears and instead focus on treating symptoms to help people find relief.
Generally, tinnitus represents some kind of hearing damage. The damage is likely permanent but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to soften these omnipresent sounds.
How tinnitus desensitisation therapy works
(Note that the spelling of this trademarked therapy is different because it is being developed in the UK.)
This specific form of desensitization, which is still being tested, uses the power of redirection. It helps the brain refocus away from tinnitus. Tinnitus is a lot like arthritis pain, or any other pain for that matter. When you focus on it, the sensation gets stronger. If you focus on something else, you stop feeling it.
At first, it seems all too simple. Just don’t think about it. But not focusing on a constant ringing in your ears long enough that you stop hearing it is quite a feat. And you need practice so that it becomes second nature to ignore it. That’s where the therapy comes in.
It’s retraining your brain to stop focusing on, and fretting over that tinnitus.
What if I can’t find someone who offers this therapy?
Many people can get relief from tinnitus by:
- Getting hearing aids that play a tone that cancels out the tinnitus sound when worn.
- Spending more time relaxing. In many people, tinnitus is worse when they’re stressed and not taking “me-time”.
- Using specific relaxation techniques taught in meditation or yoga.
- Tracking what you eat. Some people claim that certain foods cause it to get worse, especially if their tinnitus is associated with high blood pressure. Keep a food journal and rate your tinnitus. Keep in mind that with some things like alcohol, the effect may be delayed.
- Noting whether tinnitus is a side effect of any medications you’re taking. Taking daily pain relievers, loop diuretics, or chemo? It could be causing your tinnitus or making it worse. In some cases, doctors can offer an alternative without the side effect.
- Checking out cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a similar well-established treatment not specifically designed for tinnitus but often effective. It helps you overcome harmful thinking patterns and habits that may be making tinnitus worse.
If you’re suffering from tinnitus, don’t suffer alone. Schedule a hearing test.