This year the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) marked Tinnitus Week by looking at how children and young people are affected by the condition.
Amy McLaughlin (11) from Dalkeith, was diagnosed with tinnitus at just eight years old. Her mum Angela Marshall, a nurse, revealed how the hearing condition came into their lives.
She said: “Amy has had tremendous trouble with her ears from being a small baby. At only nine months old we were back and forth to the GP with repeated ear infections and after two years we got a referral to an ENT specialist. When Amy was two she was diagnosed with glue ear and had to have grommets and as she got older it was clear she also had some hearing loss.
“Amy then started complaining of a buzzing sound in her ear that was getting worse and worse so we mentioned it to her ENT doctor and she was diagnosed with tinnitus. Looking back we think she had it for a lot longer as she could get very frustrated, emotional and upset about everyday things. But as it is very difficult for a child to verbalise the sound and its impact we think she didn’t really understand what she was experiencing until it became louder and she was asked the direct question about what she was hearing.
“As a family we thought tinnitus was something that just affected older people and didn’t realise it could impact on children too so it has been hard for Amy and me, her dad, older sister and grandparents to get our heads round her diagnosis and it has been a rocky road at times. Amy can have episodes where the two different sounds she hears can become overwhelming. She also can’t hear the starting gun at her athletics club so they have to use a visual flag so she can see when to set off.”
Angela explained the impact living with tinnitus has had on St Luke’s RC Primay pupil Amy, and their family life.
She said: “When Amy’s tinnitus is bad it is impossible to communicate with her. It’s like she goes into her own world, which, as a parent, is really upsetting to witness.
“For this reason, it can also be quite an isolating condition which is a challenge for children who want to socialise and be with their friends but Amy has always been very open with her class at school about what she finds difficult so they have been very accepting towards her
“This has impacted on her school life as she has to concentrate so much harder to hear over the sounds.
“This could easily be mistaken for Amy day dreaming, but when she feels that the tinnitus is taking over and she is tired, because she also finds it tough to sleep. It is almost impossible for her to carry on.
“We have to plan carefully if we are going out to restaurants, for example, and would always avoid noisy environments. such as music concerts which would make things worse so Amy has felt she has missed out on things at times
“She is unable to hear certain sounds, such as a smoke alarm, as the noise is exactly the same tone as she hears so we have had to have a special alarm fitted. ”
Amy attended a tinnitus clinic in Edinburgh for two years where she received sound therapy, which involved speakers placed under her pillow playing white noise.
Her mum added: “It really helped her and she doesn’t need to use it now as her tinnitus is under control. This is down to Amy’s own perseverance and the responsibility she has taken to cope the best way she can and live her life.
“She does not want anyone to feel sorry for her. She has created her own strategies such a tinnitus chart which is full of things she enjoys doing so when her tinnitus is bad she selects a tab and whatever is on there she does.
“This could be, for example, playing on the xbox, doing some work on her laptop, going on her trampoline or reading - they are all different ways she has found that help her distract her mind from the noise. Amy can now go to the cinema but when she comes out she uses a special tinnitus app on her ipad for 5-10 minutes after so her hearing can adjust better. She is also very much into athletics and she finds that really helps keep her mind busy.
“We also contacted the BTA last year and they put us in touch with another girl around Amy’s age who has tinnitus. They have kept in touch over email. That has been really useful for Amy to know she is not alone.”
After coming through a tough time dealing with tinnitus, Angela and the family now want to spread the word.
She said: “I think in those early days before she was diagnosed I dismissed Amy a bit as I didn’t realise tinnitus could affect younger people. And, particularly because I am a nurse, I did feel guilty when she was told she had tinnitus as I just didn’t pick up on it.
“It is a long term condition that can be awful to deal with at times and it impacts the whole family, but we are so proud of how Amy has dealt with it and her positive approach and determination to get on with things shines through.
“And that’s why Amy and, we, as her family, wanted to get involved with Tinnitus Week last week so we could help to raise awareness that tinnitus can affect children.
“We want to make sure parents and teachers are more aware of the signs to look out for because if children get the right help at the right time, it makes a big difference long term.
“Schools also need to play their part to support children with the condition in the class room environment and we are already liaising with Amy’s secondary school, where she will move to next year. It can only be a good thing that the BTA is making more resources available for people to access because if we all work together, we can help make lives easier for children living with tinnitus.”
Research commissioned by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) has revealed that only 32 per cent of UK parents are aware that children under the age of 10 can have tinnitus.
The charity said this reinforces the misconception that the hearing condition only affects older people. And just 37 per cent of the 1,011 UK parents surveyed said they realise children aged 10 to 16 can also have tinnitus.
Released by the BTA to mark Tinnitus Week, the research also found that 22 per cent of parents would consider anxiety issues as a sign of tinnitus, 40 per cent would associate it with difficulty with attention at school, and 28 per cent would link it with their child reporting feelings of fullness in their ears.