Adults are not the only people who deal with tinnitus. Children can also experience tinnitus, but often believe the ringing in their ears is normal. Unfortunately, they may struggle explaining the issue and asking for help. As a child, it could also be incredibly scary and isolating to hear noises that others do not. This could lead to increased anxiety and thus their tinnitus increases as well, and may also interrupt sleep.
If the situation worsens, the child’s experiences at school may be impacted as well.
Unfortunately like adults with tinnitus, children cannot be cured but treatment can help minimize the impact of the condition. It’s also been found that many children “outgrow” tinnitus symptoms over time.
There have been minimal research into cases of tinnitus in children, but it is known to exist. One study in 2012 reported that 37% of children with normal hearing experience tinnitus symptoms, whereas 59% of children with hearing loss will experience symptoms of tinnitus. There is currently no standardised tinnitus questionnaires for use with children and is something that would be beneficial in the future.
Just like adult cases, tinnitus in children can be caused by noise exposure, head/neck injuries, hearing loss, jaw joint issues, wax build up in the ear canal, or ear infections. However, tinnitus symptoms in children is more commonly related to ear wax impaction or ear infections. Even if the child doesn’t have any hearing loss, it’s still vital that their hearing is protecting in loud environments to limit their chances of hearing loss or worsening tinnitus. This can be done by limiting their exposure to loud noise, or wearing ear plugs in loud situations.
Symptoms of tinnitus in children
As with adults, this condition in children has common symptoms:
Overall increased fatigue, poor attention and possible temper tantrums
May increase in intensity when stressed or anxious
Frequency and pitch will vary from person to person
Can interrupt sleep
There may also be signs of anxiety and depression in children who experience tinnitus. One study found that 32% of children with tinnitus symptoms had significant anxiety and 14.5% had depression. Those with depression experienced tinnitus for 24 months compared to those without depression (17 months).
What parents should do
If your child reports hearing sounds, even if the sounds are minor, it’s important to have a doctor examine them as soon as possible. Your doctor might refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist if required. Tinnitus symptoms may also be a side effect of certain medications, so it’s important to speak with your doctor.
However, if the child is diagnosed with tinnitus, it’s important to explain to them that it’s a common condition and that other kids also experience the same things. Often times, just having an explanation of what’s happening can be very helpful and relieve stress and fatigue associated with tinnitus. With some treatment and proper management of tinnitus, the child can easily regain a high quality of life.
Tinnitus treatments for children
Unfortunately there is currently no cure for tinnitus. However, there are many treatments that can help reduce tinnitus symptoms for the individual.
Just like with adults, children can benefit from certain treatments for tinnitus, including:
Masking the tinnitus sounds with other noises, such as the radio or natural sounds like waves. It’s important that the new sound is played slightly below the tinnitus to help retrain your brain to ignore the tinnitus over time. Completely masking tinnitus can potentially make it worse once the new sound is stopped.
Other sound therapy treatments include playing brown noise or white noise, general background noise or humming sounds. This must always be slightly below the level of tinnitus
Anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed in serious cases, or cognitive behaviour therapy
If medicine is causing the tinnitus, your doctor can change the prescription and the symptoms should stop over time
Your doctor may provide relaxation therapy ideas as tinnitus is known to reduce when stress and anxiety are reduced
In serious cases, a hearing aid may be recommended if hearing loss is also present
Where tinnitus has minimal impact on the child’s life, simple counselling is often enough. This will prevent the child from obsessing over the condition
It’s very important to “normalize” tinnitus with the child. This way they understand it’s not something to fear or a condition that makes them different
Thankfully, many children “grow out” of tinnitus, although some research is unclear why.
When a child reports hearing tinnitus sounds, it can be concerning as a parent. Although it may be unclear why, it has been reported that many children grow out of tinnitus.
If the child is diagnosed with tinnitus, it’s important to explain to them that many other children also experience the same things. Making the condition less scary or stressful is highly valuable to the child.
With treatment and/or management of tinnitus symptoms, the child can experience a high quality of life. Potentially, they may outgrow their tinnitus symptoms all-together.
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