Tinnitus in children
Tinnitus means ringing in the ears. It is a sound that the child hears, but the sound is not coming from the outside. Tinnitus in children and adults is a common condition.
What causes tinnitus?
That's a good question! If your child has hearing problems, tinnitus may be part of that. In healthy hearing, the ear detects sound, which is then converted into a nerve impulse, which travels to the brain. When the ear is not working, the brain tries really hard to compensate. It does this by increasing the strength of any nerve impulses that do originate from the ear. In trying to boost these impulses, errors creep in. So this would be a bit like an old analogue radio that can't quite pick up the radio station that you want: you can turn the radio volume up, but all that happens is you get more hissing noise. The truth is that there is a lot about tinnitus that we don't yet know, and the above description is one that the scientists think is important.
Tinnitus can also happen with perfectly normal hearing as well! Again, we think that something goes wrong with how the brain processes the nerve impulses that come from the inner ear.
How is tinnitus managed?
Usually ignoring it is the best strategy if possible, or one can try distraction with music or games. If there is hearing loss, hearing aids can help too. For some, tinnitus becomes extremely troublesome, in which case a meeting with an audiologist therapist can be helpful to allow you and your child to understand tinnitus more and find ways of dealing with it. Although there is unlikely to be an easy fix and cure for the tinnitus itself, there are a variety of strategies that the audiologists can use to help.
Should I be worried about tinnitus?
Some types of tinnitus are more worrying than others. If the tinnitus is just one one side, or sounds like a pulsation, or is associated with other ear problems such as dizziness, your GP may wish to refer you to ENT or audiology. Tinnitus that sounds like hissing, and is in both ears, and not associated with any other problems, is likely to be much less worrying.