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by Leila Miller, PA-C, DMSc    April 8, 2023

Tinnitus is the perception of sound – only heard by the patient – in the absence of an external source. They may hear ringing, ocean waves, roaring, crickets, a dial tone, sirens, hissing, buzzing, their heartbeat, and even music. It may be heard in one or both ears, or throughout the head, and is intermittent or constant. One out of six Americans complain of having tinnitus; of these, one out of three suffer from tinnitus distress.

Tinnitus distress is when tinnitus starts to elicit a constant negative emotional response, such as depression, anxiety, irritability or shame. This usually comes on abruptly and is traumatic.

There is a misconception that as there is no cure for tinnitus, there are no effective management options available to patients suffering from tinnitus distress. Many approaches exist. The most common include education, counseling, masking devices, sound therapy, dietary supplements, acupuncture, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most researched, clinically proven program for tinnitus today!

In the 1980s, cognitive behavioral therapy – a psychological treatment originally developed for the management of pain, depression and anxiety – started being used as a treatment for tinnitus distress. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is not to reduce the loudness or pitch of tinnitus, but to help patients form more helpful thinking patterns to become accepting of their situation, enabling them to take their life back.

Treatment is commonly provided by a mental health professional or audiologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and involves eight to twenty-four weekly sessions in an individual or group setting. Most sessions last 60 to 120 minutes, and results can be observed within 12 months or longer. Cognitive behavioral therapy is not a quick fix, but can be learned, and with practice will become a daily habit.

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