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Findings and Ethical Considerations From a Thematic Analysis of Threads Within Tinnitus Online Support Groups

Ainscough, Eve; Smith, Sandra N.; Greenwell, Kate; Hoare, Derek J.


Eve Ainscough

Kate Greenwell

Associate Professor in Hearing Sciences


Purpose: Tinnitus is the perception of noise without a corresponding external stimulus. Current management typically aims to moderate associated psychosocial stressors and allow sufferers to retain an adequate quality of life. With the increasing recognition of the Internet as a repository for health advice, information, and support, the online support group has become a popular coping strategy for those living with chronic conditions such as tinnitus. Patients find that communicating with each other, providing encouragement, and sharing information in the absence of physical and temporal boundaries are invaluable ways of managing their condition. The purpose of this study was to explore the potential positive and negative consequences of participating in online support groups for tinnitus.

Method: Discussion forum threads were collated from across 4 public online support group websites. All threads were initiated between February and April 2016. Texts from these threads were coded by 3 separate analysts using both inductive and deductive thematic analysis, until data saturation was reached.

Results: Analysis of 75 threads (641 individual posts) found 9 independent themes pertaining to aspects of participation in tinnitus online support groups. The results revealed that using the forums allowed users to exchange knowledge and experiences, express complex emotions, profit from a network of support, and engage in everyday conversation away from the burden of their tinnitus. However, some experiences appeared to be compromised by negative messages, limited communication, and informational issues such as conflicting advice or information overload.

Conclusions: This study represents the 1st research into discussion forums in tinnitus online support groups. A nonintrusive (passive) analysis method was used, whereby messages comprising the dataset were retrieved without direct interaction with the discussion forum. Individuals and the community of tinnitus online support groups are deemed to be at low risk from potential harm in this study. Most tinnitus patients likely benefit from accessing online support groups, for example, they discover they are not alone, and they find new coping strategies. However, for those who are particularly vulnerable or prone to psychological stress, accessing these groups could be detrimental.


Ainscough, E., Smith, S. N., Greenwell, K., & Hoare, D. J. (2018). Findings and Ethical Considerations From a Thematic Analysis of Threads Within Tinnitus Online Support Groups. American Journal of Audiology, 27(3), 503-512.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 9, 2018
Online Publication Date Nov 19, 2018
Publication Date Nov 19, 2018
Deposit Date Dec 14, 2018
Publicly Available Date Dec 17, 2018
Journal American Journal of Audiology
Print ISSN 1059-0889
Electronic ISSN 1558-9137
Publisher American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 3
Pages 503-512
Keywords Speech and Hearing
Public URL
Publisher URL


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