"It's not the sound but the negative reaction to the sound that prevents suffers from habituating to it," Cima said. "Once they hear it, it's very hard to divert their attention away... People get a fear reaction because they think something is wrong -- it becomes the attention-grabbing thing that prevents them from doing their normal activities."
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a way to redirect tinnitus sufferer's attention away from the fearful thoughts that often remind them of the ringing in their ears.
Cima added that no two cases are entirely alike. In fact, up to 50 million people in the United States experience tinnitus symptoms, accordingto the American Tinnitus Association; however, only a small minority of people with tinnitus develop problems as a result. Of these sufferers, some are cured with few interventions while others require more intensive therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy to retrain their brain on how to re-interpret the noise so it's not as distracting.
For tinnitus suffers like Gentile, these findings offer proof of an effective intervention designed to improve their quality of life. After seeing a number of experts, Gentile eventually sought out cognitive behavior therapy -- an approach he said helped him ignore the noise and get on with his life.
"I was always told you have to live with it, but that was it…and in my case that wasn't good enough," he said. "If there wasn't a cure, there had to be a way to get back to a high-quality life."