Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head when there is no sound coming from outside the body. It is often mistaken to be a problem only experienced by adults. In fact, research suggests that as many as one child in every class of 30 experiences tinnitus that negatively affects their day-to-day life and wellbeing. Whilst many research studies have explored the tinnitus problems faced by adults, very few studies have investigated the experiences of children.
A knowledge of potential tinnitus problems is important for health professionals in their assessment of tinnitus severity, and is important for determining whether or not a treatment has been effective. Tinnitus is most often ‘subjective’, meaning that the sound can only be heard by the person experiencing it. As a result, health professionals must rely on the person to report their symptoms and the impact they have on their life. Clinical questionnaires are often used by health professionals as a way of understanding and measuring tinnitus impact. Whilst there are several tinnitus questionnaires available for use with adults, none are suitable for use with children.
My PhD study, funded by the British Tinnitus Association, aims to develop a clinical questionnaire that can be used to measure the impact of tinnitus on children. Based at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, my project involves working closely with specialist NHS centres that regularly manage children who have tinnitus. First, I am investigating all possible ways in which tinnitus can affect children. These findings will be used to create a new questionnaire, which will be tested in clinics. The project is exciting as the questionnaire will be the first of its kind to be developed!