Kids Talk Tinnitus
Tinnitus Week took place in February of this year. One of its objectives was to highlight tinnitus in children. Kids Talk Tinnitus was the British Tinnitus Association’s (BTA) campaign to raise awareness of the issue. Gavin Bateman, from the BTA, attended THIS Scotland 2018 to add weight to the campaign. His talk began by clearing up some misconceptions about tinnitus and children.
Myths Regarding Tinnitus and Children
It is a common belief that tinnitus only occurs in older adults. Whilst tinnitus is hard to diagnose in the very young, it is estimated that up to a third of children are affected. Around two-thirds of parents aren’t aware that those under sixteen can have tinnitus. This is noted in a study by the BTA. This reinforces the false belief that tinnitus can only occur in adults.
For BTA Chief Executive David Stockdale:
“This research provides a stark reminder of how little awareness there is around tinnitus in children and younger people, with a large proportion of parents unaware that the condition can affect people in their early and teenage years”
You may recognise your child’s symptoms as tinnitus, but they may not be able or willing to explain what is happening. This adds to the challenge in recognising and tackling their problem.
How Children are Affected by Tinnitus
In many cases, children with tinnitus are not even aware of it. Without a frame of reference or a name for their condition, they do not perceive it as a problem. Children who have it from an early age are likely to believe that their peers all hear these noises. As a result, they don’t think it is odd and learn to live with it.
Tinnitus can make it hard to focus or hear above other background noise. This might be viewed as problem behaviour and cause social anxiety. Young children may believe that they have things inside their head that are making the noises. Some have reported bees buzzing, monsters and Rice Krispies. Older children may worry about their future. Will their tinnitus get worse and affect their studies and social life? Either way, this can cause uncertainty and distress.
Signs That Your Child May Have Tinnitus
The British Society of Audiology’s (BSA) Practice Guidance, details signs that your child may have tinnitus. Issues with sleep, for some, may indicate a problem. One case study tells of a 9-year-old boy whose tinnitus sounded like an intruder climbing the stairs. Other children were reported as having a problem sleeping alone and also in silent rooms. Elsewhere, your child may show signs of distress or avoid quiet rooms or noisy settings.
At school, reports of poor concentration, listening problems and speech perception issues can also be indicators of tinnitus. Your child may not mention these. You should note, however, that feelings of fear, anger, frustration and isolation may all be attributable to tinnitus.
Treatment of Tinnitus in Children
“… there is nothing either good or bad, only thinking makes it so.”
Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2
As a parent, you play a key role in managing your child’s perception of tinnitus. A sensitive and low-key approach will probably help. There is a clear link between stress or anxiety and tinnitus. Try to keep your own fears over your child’s health in check. This is to avoid the shared anxiety that could furthermore, cause their tinnitus to spiral out of control.
Children are open to modern therapies since they have fewer misgivings. They also seem more able to adapt to new environments and stimuli than adults. This means that they are likely to reap the benefits of the habituation technique Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may also be an option to help reduce anxiety and thus the impact of tinnitus.
Tinnitus Coping Strategies for Children
Most children with tinnitus manage well. However, if your child struggles with tinnitus there are ways to help them cope better at home and in class. By close liaison with teaching staff, you can discuss a sympathetic treatment of your child’s needs. They might move the child away from other noisy pupils or use a quieter work area. A low noise source such as a fan or heater could also help to mitigate the effects of very quiet environments. Similar strategies can also help in the home. Some children have further benefited from using a support card. This could contain tips on how to relax or breathe in order to provide comfort.
Raising Profile of Tinnitus and Children
Raising the profile of tinnitus in children will, as a result, help others to cope and share their concerns. 12-year-old tinnitus sufferer Amy McLaughlin and her mother Angela from Midlothian contacted the BTA who put them in touch with another sufferer of a similar age. They have also received strong media coverage before and during Tinnitus Week.
Amy and Angela were at THIS Scotland 2018 where they heard talks on tinnitus from the key speakers. Alan Hopkirk, event organiser and the Clinical Director at The Invisible Hearing Clinic (Invizear) was thrilled to see Amy promote the Kids Talk Tinnitus campaign and attend the show. He urges children with tinnitus to come to events such as THIS in order to meet with other sufferers. For him, a better awareness and knowledge about tinnitus in children will mean earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Alan is also delighted that Amy is going to be a guest speaker at the July meeting of the Glasgow and West Of Scotland Tinnitus Support Group. Amy will describe her tinnitus and hyperacusis journey. He has really enjoyed working with Amy and she has been a model patient. She is really positive and looking forward to the challenges of high school in August.