Link between tinnitus and anxiety in children researched in Sheffield

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Patients visiting Sheffield Children’s Hospital’s Hearing Services are taking part in valuable research into tinnitus.

The children, aged between 8 and 16 years old, are being surveyed about general anxiety in a bid for professionals to have a better understanding about the relationship between tinnitus (sounds perceived in the head or ears when there is no external sound present), hyperacusis (lowered tolerance of environmental sounds) and anxiety.

Sam Lear, Lead Clinical Scientist in Audiology from Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, who is leading the study said: “Little is known about how to treat children with tinnitus and/or hyperacusis.

“I’ve been working in paediatric audiology for over 20 years, and have noticed in clinics that the children who I see with tinnitus or hyperacusis often seem to be more anxious than other children. So I wanted to see if this is actually the case, and whether there is a relationship between the level of anxiety and how bothersome the tinnitus is.

“There is little research on the psychosocial aspects of tinnitus in children and the treatment of tinnitus in children and we were grateful to be awarded the funding from the British Tinnitus Association to do this study.

“We are working with our patients to investigate their anxiety levels and the correlation between increased anxiety and troublesome tinnitus.

“The results from this study will help audiologists and doctors seeing children with tinnitus and/or hyperacusis to know whether they should actually be considering treatment for general anxiety in children.

“At present, we provide basic counselling in our department for patients who experience tinnitus and hyperacusis. However, the results of the research could mean that that we extend what we do and introduce relaxation and mindfulness sessions to manage anxiety.

“As a pilot, we are going to have a Clinical Psychologist in the Audiology department for a day a week for a 12 month period and we hope that this will help us set up these sessions and support children with tinnitus and hyperacusis.”

The British Tinnitus Association (BTA), who are funding the research, is an independent charity which supports the hundreds of thousands of people who experience tinnitus in the UK.

David Stockdale, Chief Executive of the BTA said: “The research we fund is vitally important to people with tinnitus. There is currently no cure for tinnitus and we know that research can help to make a real difference in the treatment of this condition.

“Having a ringing, buzzing or humming noise in their ear can be very frightening for a child and as parents we just want to make it better. Treatment does not remove the noise but can help reduce its impact on everyday life.

“Having a better understanding of tinnitus and its relationship with anxiety in children will help us to make a real difference to those who suffer from what can be a debilitating condition.

“Thankfully many children seem to ‘grow out’ of tinnitus as they get older but the more we learn about this condition the better we can help people to manage the condition.”