Tinnitus in children

Often thought of as a condition which affects the over-50s, or one that rock stars get following a lifetime’s exposure to loud noise, research has shown that one child in 30 has clinically significant tinnitus.

Nic Wray from British Tinnitus Association (BTA) looks at childhood tinnitus – what it is and how parents can spot the signs.

‘Angry bees’; ‘footsteps in the dark’; ‘a fast train rushing by’. Imagine what it’s like to hear noises in your head. They are loud, scary, and yet everyone around you acts like they can’t hear them. You are having trouble sleeping at night, and in the day time, you sometimes get into trouble because you can’t concentrate at school.

This is the reality for some children living with tinnitus. Often thought of as a condition which affects the over-50s, or one that rock stars get following a lifetime’s exposure to loud noise, research has shown that one child in 30 – one in every average sized classroom – has clinically significant tinnitus.

Research revealed for Tinnitus Week has shown that just under a third of UK parents are aware that children under the age of 10 can have tinnitus, and just 37 per cent think it can affect children 10 to 16-years-old.

This is why BTA is focusing on Kids Talk Tinnitus this Tinnitus Week, which runs until 11 February.

Research revealed for Tinnitus Week has shown that just under a third (32 per cent) of UK parents are aware that children under the age of 10 can have tinnitus, and just 37 per cent think it can affect children 10 to 16-years-old.

Spotting the signs

Some parents and professionals worry that asking a child about tinnitus may create awareness or anxiety, or make tinnitus worse. Experience shows that the opposite is the case, and that asking about tinnitus gives an opportunity to reassure the child and answer any questions they may have.

Tinnitus might be impacting on different areas of a child’s life, and parents and carers should be mindful of these. If your child has any of the signs below, it might be helpful to ask them if they have noises in their ears when they are experiencing problems, including:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Noise avoidance
  • Quiet avoidance
  • Difficulties in concentrating and listening
  • Feelings of anger, frustration, fear or helplessness
  • Difficulty with hearing aid use (if worn)
  • Unusual feelings in the ear

A helping hand

Whilst tinnitus in children is common, most children are not bothered by it, and a simple explanation and reassurance are all that is required. The BTA has a series of award winning information leaflets and activity books – targeted by age group – which you and your child may find helpful.

The BTA also has leaflets aimed at parents and teachers supporting a child with tinnitus. If your child is distressed by their tinnitus, or also complains of pain, feelings of fullness, vertigo, dizziness, hearing loss, or if the tinnitus fluctuates in time with your child’s heartbeat, consult your GP, who will then make referrals as appropriate.

If distressing tinnitus is left untreated, it can have a significant impact on your child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, and their educational progress. Whilst tinnitus is rarely a sign that urgent care is required, the distress it can cause your child means that a prompt intervention is advised.

Referral routes vary, but children are generally referred to paediatric audiology or ENT services. There are currently few. The BTA helpline can advise where your nearest local service is if you call them on 0800 018 0527. You can also email helpline@tinnitus.org.uk or look for advice on this website.