No more silence with tinnitus - a content analysis of an online discussion forum for individuals with tinnitus

This research examines the experiences of individuals with tinnitus as told by the messages exchanged on an online discussion board. This study provides insight on an illness that is often overlooked, shedding light on the day to day problems individuals with tinnitus may face. This research also examines the different types of social support messages exchanged among forum users. A total of fifty primary posts and responses were collected for a grounded theory approach. Posts were coded and analyzed to reveal dominant themes and subthemes. The types of social support messages were categorized based on the Social Support Behavior Code framework (Cutrona and Suhr 1992). Tinnitus as a life disruption emerged to be the main core theme, followed by several subthemes under this category: “constant presence in the mind,” “losing agency,” and “feelings of isolation.” The findings suggest that individuals with tinnitus undergo behavioral and social changes based on the interactions they have with their surrounding environment. Some tinnitus sufferers grow fearful of their illness and others feel they are not treated well by others when disclosing information to medical specialists or close friends. Analysis of the types of social support messages exchanged revealed that “informational support” was the most common support message, followed by “emotional support,” and “esteem support.” Discussions on the issues of isolation led to informational and emotional support messages from repliers who participated on discussion threads.