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A Qualitative Study on Factors Modulating Tinnitus Experience

Colagrosso, Emilia M. G.1,2,3; Fournier, Philippe1,2,4; Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth M.3,5; Hébert, Sylvie1,2

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000642
Research Article
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Objectives: It is well recognized that tinnitus can severely interfere with important aspects of life such as sleep, concentration abilities, social activities, and mood. However, the impact of tinnitus may vary greatly from one individual to another, with some being severely affected and others only experiencing a slight handicap. Information from participants’ experiences with tinnitus could help explain such variability. The full experience of living with tinnitus from a patient’s perspective has been under-investigated, especially in comparison with the large and extensive body of qualitative research on hearing loss. This study aims to contribute to fill this gap and assess participants’ experience of living with tinnitus.

Design: As part of a larger mixed design study, this inquiry used qualitative analyses to investigate participant’s experiences with tinnitus. Twenty-seven tinnitus participants of different ages, sexes, audiometric profiles, and tinnitus severities were invited to discuss their tinnitus through semistructured interviews and journal entries. The interviews took place 1 month after participants completed a 3-week trial period with tinnitus maskers.

Results: The findings were grouped into three main themes: participants’ appraisal of their tinnitus, factors modulating tinnitus experience, and consequences of tinnitus. Regarding participants’ appraisal of their tinnitus, a dissociation between the tinnitus sensation (pitch, loudness) and tinnitus experience (annoyance/distress) was reported. Factors modulating tinnitus experience were classified as environmental factors and individual-specific factors, which were further divided into soundscape and other environmental factors for the former and attentional focus, stress level, physical state, fatigue, and auditory effort for the latter. Consequences of tinnitus included distraction, disrupted mental health and mood, headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, hearing difficulties, disrupted social life, and frustration.

Conclusions: Two of the main themes (participants’ appraisal of their tinnitus and consequences of tinnitus) were consistent with findings from a few previous qualitative studies. Factors modulating tinnitus experience also emerged as a prominent theme. Indeed, participants described a plethora of factors that affected their experiences of tinnitus. On the basis of these findings, an attentional model is proposed to account for how these factors might modulate the effects of tinnitus.

1École d’orthophonie et d’audiologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada

2International Laboratory on Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS), Montréal, Québec, Canada

3School of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

4Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Aix-Marseille University, Marseille, France

5Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Received October 31, 2017; accepted June 8, 2018.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Address for correspondence: Sylvie Hébert, École d’orthophonie et d’audiologie, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal, C.P.6128, succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3C 3J7. E-mail: sylvie.hebert@umontreal.ca

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