Schoolgirl reveals reality of life with childhood tinnitus

Amy McLaughlin. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Amy McLaughlin. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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SHE suffered trouble with her ears as a small baby, with repeated infections and hearing loss.

But when Amy McLaughlin began complaining about a constant buzzing noise, her mother knew something was seriously wrong.

And despite being diagnosed with tinnitus at the age of eight – a condition that makes sufferers hear sounds that are not caused by an outside source – the schoolgirl has thrived, becoming a promising athlete and helping others to cope with the incurable condition.

The 11-year-old is a pupil at St Luke’s RC Primary School. She says the sound she hears can be a high-pitched noise, or a ringing sound. She is always armed with a distraction such as writing in her diary, sport or talking to someone. “I stay positive,” she explained. “I can control it – I won’t let it control me. I love playing sport and running. I’ll put my headphones in, the music on and it will distract me.”

Mum Angela Marshall 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.

“Before Amy was diagnosed, she would complain of hearing different noises and I’d say ‘don’t be silly’. She would struggle to sleep and I’d be sat with her until she fell asleep because she was scared of what was going on.

“I felt very guilty when she was diagnosed for not listening to her. I’m a nurse and I had no idea you could get tinnitus at such a young age. She used to get sent home from school a lot and there wasn’t really anything we could do because we didn’t understand.”

Despite her positive outlook, the condition has had a huge impact on Amy and her family’s life.

“She has never been to a music concert as she doesn’t want to trigger the tinnitus,” Angela said. “She does want to go but has accepted she can just play music at home at any time. When we go to the cinema she takes her headphones and after the film she sits with her iPad on a special tinnitus app and in about 10 minutes her hearing has adapted back to normal.

“We have to plan ahead going to restaurants to make sure it’s not too loud for her.

“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. But we’re so proud of how she has adapted to tinnitus and how positive she is.”

Through Amy’s own perseverance she has created her own strategies – such as a tinnitus chart which is full of the things she enjoys doing. When her tinnitus is bad, she selects a tab from the chart and does whatever is on there, from playing on the xBox to going on her trampoline.

Active Amy is also a member of Lasswade Athletics Club, which has reverted to using a flag to begin races due to her inability to hear the start gun.

Amy is raising awareness of childhood tinnitus for the British Tinnitus Association and Tinnitus Week, which runs from February 5 to 11.