Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normal operations of healthcare services, broad sectors of the economy, and the ability to socialize freely. For those with tinnitus, such changes can be factors in exacerbating tinnitus. The purpose of this study was to determine tinnitus help-seeking behavior, which resources individuals utilized to cope during the pandemic, and what additional support is desired.
Method: An exploratory cross-sectional study design including 1,522 adults with tinnitus living in North America (Canada and the U.S.) was used. Data was collected through an online survey distributed by the American Tinnitus Association via email. Free text from open-ended questions was analyzed using the Automated Content Analysis (ACA). The responses to the structured questionnaire were analyzed using descriptive and non-parametric statistics.
Results: Significantly less tinnitus support was sought during the pandemic and very few respondents utilized tinnitus support networks during the pandemic at the time the survey was conducted. Nonetheless, seeking support during the pandemic was significantly associated with significantly less tinnitus distress. The most frequently utilized resources for coping during the pandemic were contacting family and friends, spending time outdoors or in nature, relaxation, and exercise. Such tools for coping were associated with significantly less tinnitus distress. The support requested and advice provided by participants to healthcare services had overlap. The main support needs related to managing tinnitus included addressing hearing loss, providing peer support, finding cures, accessing trained and understanding healthcare providers to help. The advice for professionals related to tinnitus management included the need for cures, personalized support, addressing hearing loss, targeting the tinnitus percept, and providing more information about the condition.
Conclusions: These findings provide suggestions on how to better support those with tinnitus at a time when healthcare is undergoing rapid changes. Findings can be used by stakeholders, clinical practitioners, and tinnitus support services to devise ways to work more effectively together to improve access to patient-driven, suitable, accessible, and evidence-based support.