Most of parents would do just about anything to help their kids feel better. When they’re babies, we stay up all night soothing them when teething starts.
When they’re toddlers and preschoolers, we bandage and kiss skinned knees and elbows. When they’re school age, we listen to and reassure them when friends and crushes break their hearts.
But what if your kiddo is experiencing the symptoms of tinnitus? Most parents don’t realize that tinnitus in children can occur, and even fewer would know what to do if it did. Read on to learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms, what to do if you suspect tinnitus in your child and how to keep their condition from getting worse.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is sound you hear that doesn’t have an external source. Most people with tinnitus describe it as ringing in the ears sound, but patients can experience it like whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring or even a heartbeat. It can be a soft or loud noise, occasional or constant, mildly annoying or massively debilitating.
Almost everybody experiences temporary tinnitus at some point in their lives. But for 50 million Americans of all ages (adults, seniors, and even children), tinnitus is a daily reality that can affect their quality of life.
Fortunately, children who have tinnitus tend to be more resilient than adults with the majority of children are not troubled by their symptoms. However, a small number of children can be distressed, so it’s important for parents to help kids understand and manage their tinnitus treatment.
What Causes Tinnitus in Kids?
Tinnitus isn’t a disease itself, but a symptom. It is a sign to you and your child’s doctor that something else is going on inside their body. While there are many possible causes for tinnitus, doctors agree that most tinnitus is brought on by disturbances in the inner and middle ear.
Inside your child’s ear are microscopic hairs called cilia. Those sensitive hairs sense sound signals and deliver them to the brain. However, disturbances inside the ear can cause the cilia to bend and move in unnatural ways, creating sensations of sound that isn’t there.
In children, this can be brought on by anything from ear infections, to ear wax build-up, to damage from over-exposure to loud sounds that leads to noise-induced hearing loss. For example, teens and pre-teens wearing headphones and listening to their music too loudly.
How Do I Know If My Child Has Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is an invisible health condition, meaning there are no physical signs parents and doctors can point to for an easy diagnosis. Further complicating things, kids don’t always know how to express what they are experiencing.
Small children may not have the words to describe their symptoms. Older kids and teens may hide their condition because they feel anxious or scared. That said, there are some things you can look for that may indicate that you child is experiencing the symptoms of tinnitus, including:
- Sleep difficulties, particularly in young children. Bedtime can often be difficult for tinnitus patients of all ages, because tinnitus symptoms are most noticeable at night when the house is quiet. Kids may ask for sound in their room like from a radio or a TV, or they may not want to fall asleep on their own.
- Noise avoidance. Tinnitus can be aggravated by loud sounds. They may seem distressed in a noisy environment or they may try to avoid noisy situations altogether.
- Quiet avoidance. Conversely, they may be unhappy in quiet places because it makes their tinnitus symptoms more noticeable.
- Difficulty concentrating and listening.
- Feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, fear or helplessness.
- Unusual feelings in the ear, particularly feelings of fullness.
- Difficulty with hearing aid use.
Tinnitus is especially common in children and adults who already have issues with hearing loss. Most children with hearing aids experience less tinnitus with their hearing aids. However, if your child’s tinnitus is worse when wearing hearing aids, their hearing aid may need to be readjusted. You may also want to consult with your child’s hearing professionals about hearing aids that generate gentle white noise sound therapy to counteract the sounds of tinnitus.
What Should I Do If I Think My Child Is Experiencing Tinnitus?
First and foremost, ask them. Have them describe the tinnitus sound, or ask gentle questions that help them describe what they are hearing and experiencing.
Next, reassure them. Tinnitus can make many kids feel anxious. Tell them just how common tinnitus is, that in most kids it goes away and that it’s just a sound. There’s nothing to worry about and nothing that can hurt them. That last point can be especially important. Patients who worry are proven to experience longer and more severe tinnitus, so it’s important to let your kids know that they are free to ignore the sound.
Then, contact their pediatrician. They will give your child a full examination, rule out possible causes and refer you to specialists as needed.
Next, help your child manage their tinnitus at home. Help kids find solutions when their symptoms flare up. In the short term, you could play music in their room at night, or keep ear plugs in medicine cabinets and glove compartments in case you encounter a noisy situation that aggravates their symptoms.
In the long term, you can help them incorporate lifestyle changes that are proven to lessen the symptoms of tinnitus, including eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise, and incorporating stress-relieving techniques, such as meditation, yoga or even talk therapy.
Finally, help reduce the risk of making their tinnitus worse. Seek prompt treatment for ear and respiratory infections. Use parental controls on phones and MP3 players to make sure their music isn’t too loud. Teach older kids the 60/60 rule: keep the volume of your music player lower than 60%, and try not to listen for more than 60 minutes a day. Watch your kids closely for emerging signs of depression or anxiety, and talk to their doctor as needed. And if you are taking your kids to noisy events like concerts or football games, pack earplugs or noise cancelling headphones to protect against hearing loss.