01:08pm Thursday 17 October 2019

When do people seek help for hearing difficulties?

Medically unexplained hearing difficulties are common and account for at least ten per cent of audiology outpatient presentations.

The study, led by academics at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies, explored illness perceptions with 100 people who reported experiencing hearing difficulties despite normal audiometric thresholds.  This experience is referred to as King-Kopetzky syndrome (KKS), obscure auditory dysfunction (OAD) or auditory processing disorder (APD).

The paper, Illness perceptions and hearing difficulties in King-Kopetzky syndrome: What determines help seeking?, is published online in the journal, International Journal of Audiology.

Most people attending outpatients present with hearing difficulties in the presence of background noise but with normal hearing sensitivity.  This is somewhat unexpected in audiology where normally the stigma of losing hearing is thought to delay people seeking help with their hearing difficulties until their hearing has deteriorated significantly.

The study measured peripheral and central hearing function and the illness perceptions of 100 people, half of who had sought help with their hearing and half who had not.  Logistic regression was used to consider the associations between help-seeking and a range of audiological and illness perception measures.

The researchers found that people with the same symptoms who seek help and people who do not have similar audiological features but differ in the consequences that they believe about their hearing difficulties.

Help-seekers present with poorer speech in noise thresholds than non help-seekers, and that understandable illness perceptions and a negative belief in the consequences of hearing difficulties are associated with help-seeking status, regardless of hearing sensitivity.

Dr Helen Pryce, Lecturer in the Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies, said: “What is interesting is that a belief in negative consequences of hearing difficulties has a key role in determining whether someone will seek help as a KKS ‘patient’.

“The psychological evaluation of these symptoms is crucial to people becoming patients.  This suggests that psychosocial features are more important than audiological features in determining who will seek help with medically unexplained hearing difficulties.”

Please contact Joanne Fryer for further information.

Further information:

Paper: Illness perceptions and hearing difficulties in King-Kopetzky syndrome: What determines help seeking? H. Pryce, C. Metcalfe, A. Hall, L. St. Claire, International Journal of Audiology, Pages 1-9.  Posted online on 25 May 2010.

The work was partly funded by the Pan Bath and Swindon Primary Care Research Collaborative.

The Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies was formed in August 2004, as part of the newly established School for Applied Community and Health Studies, a coalition of departments interested in applied research questions.

Research and teaching within the Centre focuses on hearing and balance related issues, with a particular interest in rehabilitation and the professional development of people concerned with audiological services.

The Centre offers an NHS funded BSc programme in Audiology and undertakes research projects and continuing professional development training for clinical staff within Audiology and related disciplines. 

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