Fluctuations in Subjective Tinnitus Ratings Over Time: Implications for Clinical Research.
Patients with chronic, subjective tinnitus are often administered a battery of audiometric tests to characterize their tinnitus percept. Even a comprehensive battery, if applied just once, cannot capture fluctuations in tinnitus strength or quality over time. Moreover, subjects experience a learning curve when reporting the detailed characteristics of their tinnitus percept, such that a single assessment will reflect a lack of familiarity with test requirements. We addressed these challenges by programming an automated software platform for at-home tinnitus characterization over a 2-week period.Prospective case series.Tertiary referral center, patients’ homes.Following an initial clinic visit, 25 subjects with chronic subjective tinnitus returned home with a tablet computer and calibrated headphones to complete questionnaires, hearing tests, and tinnitus psychoacoustic testing. We repeatedly characterized loudness discomfort levels and tinnitus matching over a 2-week period.Primary outcomes included intrasubject variability in loudness discomfort levels, tinnitus intensity, and tinnitus acoustic matching over the course of testing.Within-subject variability for all outcome measures could be reduced by approximately 25 to 50% by excluding initial measurements and by focusing only on tinnitus matching attempts where subjects report high confidence in the accuracy of their ratings.Tinnitus self-report is inherently variable but can converge on reliable values with extended testing. Repeated, self-directed tinnitus assessments may have implications for identifying malingerers. Further, these findings suggest that extending the baseline phase of tinnitus characterizations will increase the statistical power for future studies focused on tinnitus interventions.