Developing a tool to measure tinnitus in children

In our latest Tinnitus Week (5-11 February 2018) blog, Harriet Smith, a BTA-funded PhD student at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, explains more about tinnitus in children and how her study hopes to help with future diagnosis and treatments.

Tinnitus is often mistaken to be a problem only experienced by adults. This idea may be driven by the strong associations between tinnitus and events that are specific to adults such as age-related hearing loss or long-term noise exposure. In fact, research suggests that tinnitus is just as common in children as it is in adults.


As with adults, most children who experience tinnitus do not find it bothersome, but for some, it has a significant impact on day-to-day life. What children report, or are able to report as problems are affected by factors such as age and language ability.  Difficulties sleeping and problems concentrating at school are often reported. Some studies also link tinnitus in children to psychological problems such as anxiety or depression.  


To be able to care for children with tinnitus, health professionals need to be able to identify and measure the problems the child has, both to determine how severe their problems are and to assess whether treatment has had an effect.  To measure tinnitus, we use clinical questionnaires. Whilst there are many questionnaires available to measure tinnitus in adults, there are currently none that are appropriate for use with children.


What is my PhD project about?

Over the next three years, I will develop a child-specific clinical questionnaire to measure tinnitus in children.


What is involved in my research?

First, I will identify all tinnitus-related problems reported by children, by reviewing previous studies, and by working with children with tinnitus and their families. This will inform the design of my questionnaire, which I will test in specialised tinnitus clinics.


How will it benefit children with tinnitus?

The questionnaire will be a clinical tool to help health professionals measure the impact tinnitus is having on the child.  This will support decisions about treatment options, and confirm if treatment is having the desired effect. Widespread use of the tool could encourage consistency in assessment practices across services. Additionally, the clinical data generated could be used to inform the commissioning of tinnitus services for children.


Who is funding the project?

My PhD is funded by the British Tinnitus Association. As my project progresses, I will work closely with the BTA to gain important input from children and families and to share my research findings with public and professional communities.


Tinnitus Week runs from 5-11 February 2018 aiming to get the nation talking about tinnitus and highlight the stories of those living with it. This year’s focus is children and young people. For more information please visit the British Tinnitus Association’s website www.tinnitus.org.uk. You can also follow the hashtag #TinnitusWeek on social media. To download the new BTA resources designed for parents and teachers to understand more about tinnitus and to support children with the condition visit: www.tinnitus.org.uk/Pages/Category/tinnitus-in-children

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