Sudden Hearing Loss


February 22, 2011: 6:17 am: Sudden Hearing Loss, Tinnitus

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A man asked,

In September 2011, after drinking with friends, we went to a bar and just before we left, there was a very loud song. When I came out of the building, I heard loud tinnitus in my right ear. I didn’t realize it was a big issue and went to the doctor’s three days later. The doctor said I had sudden hearing loss, and I received treatment for the next two months. The medicine the doctor used was mainly trophic nerve, anti-coagulation and vasodilation medicine. The result is not good—my hearing loss only improved from 80+ dB to 70 dB.

My questions are:

1. Is there any possibility that I can further improve my hearing?

2. Apart from the tinnitus, I have another problem that bothers me even more that the hearing loss and tinnitus. My right ear is very sensitive to certain sounds/noises, for example noisy crowds of people and the noise from plastic bags. When I hear the noise, my tinnitus will get much louder than when I am in a quiet environment. My doctor said there is no good method to cure this except to let my body heal itself. Do you have any suggestions?

There were a number of factors that set you up for your hearing loss and tinnitus. First, loud sounds, whether music or noise can damage your ears and cause your ears to ring. I doubt that this was the first time your ears ever rang after being in a noisy bar. When your ears ring, that is a sign that you are damaging your ears and you need to take protective action so it doesn’t happen again. If you don’t, the next time your ears may ring longer (and louder), and eventually they will ring forever—you will be left with permanent loud tinnitus day and night. This is not exactly a fun experience and can quickly take the joy out of your life. So the first step is prevention so you never experience this.

Other factors besides the loud noise included the alcohol you drank. Alcohol alone can cause hearing loss. So can smoking, or being in a smoky environment such as bars often are.

In addition, smoke and noise can have a synergistic effect on your hearing—causing the resulting hearing loss to be even greater if you are around loud noise in a smoky atmosphere at the same time than either of these factors by themselves. The same holds true for carbon monoxide—often found in higher concentrations in smoky environments.

You can read more about these factors in two articles that previously appeared in this eZine back in 2008.

The first one was called “Can Alcohol Cause Tinnitus?” and the second one was entitled, “Alcohol and Hearing Loss“.

I doubt that your hearing loss was all the result of that one loud sound. Certainly the loud noise you have exposed your ears to over the years has taken its toll on your hearing. In addition, there are a number of factors that can cause sudden hearing loss such as a viral infection in your inner ear, a mini-stroke (blood clot in the tiny arteries leading to your inner ears), various diseases, a blow to the head, etc.

Apparently your doctor was thinking mostly that you might have had a mini-stroke—so he gave you medicine to break up blood clots, and dilate (expand) your arteries to try to get more blood to your inner ears in case you might have clogged arteries. At the same time he provided you with good nutrition for your auditory nerves.

Unfortunately, these treatments didn’t improve your hearing much—around 10 dB. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it still leaves you with a severe hearing loss.

With sudden hearing loss, sometimes your hearing comes back without any treatment (or in spite of any treatment), sometimes it comes back because of treatment, and sometimes it never comes back no matter what treatment you receive. Whether the treatment you received helped you or not, we’ll never know.

This brings me to my two rules of thumb regarding sudden hearing loss.

1. The greater the sudden hearing loss, the less hearing typically comes back. With say a 40 dB loss, you might expect to get 30 dB back, but with an 80 or 90 dB loss, you might only get back 10 or 15 dB, such as in your case.

2. The hearing level you have at the end of 30 days after the sudden hearing loss is likely what you are going to be left with for the rest of your life. In other words, seldom does more hearing come back after 30 days (barring a miracle) unless it has been continuously coming back day by day throughout the initial 30 day period. If this is the case, more hearing may continue to come back. Since your sudden hearing loss happened several months ago, it is very unlikely that any medical treatment now will help restore your hearing. The damage has been done—the hair cells have died—and thus you now have a permanent hearing loss.

At this point, you need to turn your attention from trying to recover more hearing to learning how to successfully live with a hearing loss. This means learning all sorts of coping skills and using amplification (hearing aids and assistive listening devices) to help you hear better. My book, “Keys to Successfully Living with Your Hearing Loss” will certainly help get you well on your way down this new road you are destined to travel.

The other problem you have where certain sounds now sound much too loud and make your tinnitus worse is quite common in people who have lost hearing due to exposing their ears to loud sounds.

A lot of people think of hearing loss as, well—hearing loss. But few realize that along with hearing loss, we often also have either recruitment or hyperacusis, such as you are experiencing, where some normal sounds are now too loud.

Thus, in addition to learning successful hearing loss coping strategies, you also have to learn how to live with this extra racket. Here are a couple of guidelines.

First, you need to protect your ears from loud sounds in the future. Each time you expose your ears to truly loud sounds, you can make your tinnitus worse and your sensitivity to loud sounds even greater. This means avoiding loud venues, or wearing appropriate ear protection—ear plugs or ear muffs.

Second, you must be careful not to overprotect your ears from sounds. Thus only wear ear plugs when it is truly noisy. If you wear them in normal sound situations, you will make this condition worse and worse. The simple rule is to protect your ears when you need to, but never overprotect your ears.

Finally, do not obsess over your ears and this sound sensitivity. The more you worry about it, the worse it will become. Learn how to protect your ears, then learn to ignore these louder sounds as much as you can and let your brain slowly turn down its internal volume. You will probably always be more sensitive to sounds than you were before, but by doing the above you can learn to successfully live with them.

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November 7, 2009: 12:15 pm: Sudden Hearing Loss, Tinnitus

Sudden Hearing Loss—What Happens Next?

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A man explained:

I am a 37 year old male who has experienced sudden hearing loss in my right ear. Unfortunately, the problem was not treated right away. Prednisone therapy, which didn’t help, was initiated 13 days after the loss. In hearing tests I could not understand any speech, though I hear tones and some low register sounds. I’m curious to know the possibility, if any, of the hearing returning. My MRI came out negative and I experienced very little, if any, vertigo. It has now been four weeks since the loss. If my hearing does not recover, does the ringing, at least, eventually die down? Do hearing aids assist in reducing the ringing?

Sudden hearing loss typically strikes without warning. The standard treatment is Prednisone. Beginning it as soon as possible after the sudden hearing loss gives the best chances of recovery. Just remember that sometimes Prednisone works and sometimes it doesn’t. Also, sometimes hearing comes back on its own without, or in spite of, any treatment.

In your case, it seems the Prednisone didn’t work. Even though you began it after 13 days, that is not necessarily too late—but the sooner you begin, typically the better results you have.

Unfortunately, it seems that neither the Prednisone, nor time, has restored your hearing. Typically, the worse the sudden loss, the less chance there is of full, or even any, recovery.

The way it usually works is that the hearing you have at the end of 30 days or so is what you will be left with—unless your hearing has been returning a bit at a time all along, in which case it could continue to improve after the 30 days. Since you haven’t had any significant hearing returning during this time, I think the chances that more will return are slim.

You ask, “If my hearing does not recover, does the ringing, at least, eventually die down?”

It may, or may not. In any case, you can learn to habituate to your tinnitus so it no longer bothers you—no matter how loud or soft it is. The thing to do is not dwell on, or focus on, your tinnitus. Totally ignore it, and act like it isn’t there. When you do this, you will notice that your tinnitus tends to fade into the background and not be so intrusive. Not easy to do, I know, but it does work for many people. I’ve had tinnitus for 40 plus years now, and although my ears are ringing away as I write this, I do not let my tinnitus bother me. It is just “there”. (Of course, if I had by “druthers”, I’d rather it wasn’t there at all!)

Conversely, if you dwell on your tinnitus, it will get even worse. That is why it is so important, right from the start, to learn to focus on other things and thus ignore your tinnitus.

Since people typically perceive their tinnitus as louder when there is no sound around, enriching your sound environment helps mask your tinnitus. That is why wearing hearing aids help a lot of people cope with their tinnitus. Hearing aids bring in lots of real sounds for your brain to process so it doesn’t concentrate on your tinnitus as much. Thus, your tinnitus seems to fade into the background to some degree. However, when you take your hearing aids off at night, the lack of real sounds allows your tinnitus to come back until the next morning when you put your aids in again.

One trick to help you manage your tinnitus during the night is to set your clock radio to stay on for an hour or so, so your brain has real sounds to listen to while you fall asleep. Other people find that having a fan running in their bedroom does the same thing. Still others listen to CDs of environmental sounds—rain, waves on the seashore, birds, etc. and have good results with that. Do what works best for you. Hopefully your tinnitus will only be a minor annoyance in your life, not a major problem.

If this doesn’t work, my book, “When Your Ears Ring—Cope with Your Tinnitus—Here’s How” teaches you a number of things you can do to help yourself successfully live with your tinnitus.

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October 27, 2008: 2:53 pm: Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A lady wrote:

I read your article ["Sudden Hearing Loss Is a Medical Emergency"]  as I am suffering a single-ear hearing loss. It started two days ago when I woke up. It felt like something was blocking my left ear. It was not very severe though. But today when I woke up, the hearing loss became intense. I read about how to hum and listen to it. I hear the hum louder in the blocked ear, so it’s not a serious problem (according to your article). But the weird thing is that I do not have cold at the moment, so how come that I have a blocked ear? Any suggestions for me?

Although an ear plugged by a cold is one common cause of hearing loss such as you describe, my first reaction is that your sudden hearing loss was likely caused by excess wax in your ear canals. Probably what happened is that a bunch of it fell off the sides of the ear canal and now has blocked off the whole ear canal causing the hearing loss. I’d suggest you have your doctor check out your ear canals and remove any excess wax if he finds any. Hopefully, that will solve your problem.

A few days later this lady confirmed my suspicions. She wrote: “I went to my doctor and he checked my left ear. He said that it was all wax. He told me to pour some warmed olive oil into my left ear and let it soften the wax inside my ear. I did this three times before coming back again the next day. He then performed a suction to my left ear and finally all the wax came out and I can hear very clearly now. He told me to regularly clean my ears to make sure it does not happen again.”

This incident is an example of where the “hum test” (see the above article link) comes in very useful for separating sudden hearing loss conditions that are true emergencies from those that are not. Although scary, sudden hearing loss does not always have dire consequences attached that require immediate treatment. It can be something as simple as ear wax blocking your ear canal. However, if in doubt, seek professional help immediately.

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October 3, 2008: 2:13 pm: Hearing Loss, Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

Kissing causes hearing loss? You’ve got to be kidding!

Actually, it’s true. Not all kissing, mind you, but kissing someone on their ear can be dangerous to their hearing health. Here’s the incident that brought this fact to light.

A mother and her 4-year-old daughter were sitting on the floor watching TV. Impulsively the child hugged her mom and vigorously kissed her. Unfortunately, the kiss landed directly on the opening to the mother’s left ear canal.

This sudden (and considerable) suction applied negative pressure to the ear drum. (1) As the mother related, “While she was doing it, it felt like she was sucking the air out of my head.” (3) “When she finished, I had no hearing in that ear.” In addition to the total hearing loss, “she had a very intense screeching tinnitus. She had a lot of facial twitching, muscular twitching and pain.” (2)

Fortunately, most of her hearing returned a few hours later, but she was left with a permanent 35 dB hearing loss in the lower frequencies, “screeching tinnitus” that later subsided to a permanent soft rushing sound, hyperacusis (normal sounds are now too loud—”any loud sound would jostle her and send her through the roof”) (2), dysacusis (distorted hearing) and facial twitching. (3)

About a year later, she contacted Dr. Levi Reiter, professor and head of the Audiology program, at Hofstra University in New York. Dr. Reiter’s testing revealed that she had no auditory reflex in that ear any more. The auditory reflex is where the tiny stapedius muscle (actually the smallest muscle in the human body) contracts and pulls the tiny stapes (or stirrup) (the smallest bone in the human body) away from the oval window to reduce the volume of sudden loud sounds. (2)

In addition, “she had another interesting symptom, whenever she would turn her head from side to side, it felt like something was loose in her middle ear.” (2)

Further investigation by Dr. Reiter indicated that what likely had happened was that the ligament that fastened the stapedius muscle to the stapes had ripped apart, leaving her with a non-functioning auditory reflex in that ear. Since the auditory reflex could no longer dampen louder sounds, she was left with permanent hyperacusis.

Interestingly enough, this mother only experienced sensorineural hearing loss. There was no conductive loss whatsoever. You would have thought the middle ear bones would have been dislocated causing a conductive loss, but nothing of the sort happened (apart from the ligament on the stapedius muscle being ripped apart—which doesn’t cause hearing loss).

Initially the press reported this event as the “Kiss of Deaf”, but due to Dr. Reiter’s ongoing research in this area, this phenomenon is now going by the moniker of “Reiter’s Ear-Kiss Syndrome” (REKS).

Ever since the first reports came out in the media, Dr. Reiter has been receiving calls and emails from people all over the country who also have experienced hearing loss from a kiss on the ear. (4) Rather than it being a strange and unique occurrence, Dr. Reiter told me that REKS is much more common than it first appeared to be.

He emphasizes that you must never kiss anyone on their ears, or let them kiss you there. (Nibbling on someone’s ears is an entirely different matter!) He writes: “My biggest concern as far as warning the public and getting this out is regarding newborns and infants. Mothers and fathers, and even sisters and brothers and grandparents love to smooch up that little baby—give him a whole kissing frenzy.” (2)

Note that this may be especially true when little children try to kiss a baby sibling. They aren’t discerning where they kiss, and may forcefully kiss them on their ear. (Adults may inadvertently do this too.)

Dr. Reiter continues, “The ear canal of an infant is very small, so that negative pressure you’re applying to the ear canal is going to have a much greater impact than on an adult. I’m afraid there are infants out there who are experiencing this, but they can’t say ‘Mommy, I can’t hear in one ear,’ and the net result is that five years later, when they have a hearing test, no one will know to relate it to this.” (2) Therefore, for the sake of everyone’s ears, confine smooching to other parts of the body.

If you have had any hearing loss or other ear problems resulting from a kiss on your ear, Dr. Reiter would love to hear from you for his ongoing research into this phenomenon. His email address is ears@drreiter.net.
_________

(1) “The Kiss of Deaf”: A Case Study by Levi A. Reiter. The Hearing Journal. August 2008. Vol. 61, No. 8. pp. 32-37.

(2) Interview with Levi Reiter, Ph.D., CCC-A, Professor of Audiology, Hofstra University. Topic: The Kiss That Caused Hearing Loss, or Reiter’s Ear Kiss Syndrome (REKS). 7/28/2008.

(3) Little Girl Gives Mom Kiss Of Deaf. Hearing Review, The Insider. July 31, 2008.

(4) Ear Kiss Causes Rare Syndrome by Dee Naquin Shafer, the ASHA Leader. August 12, 2008.

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August 16, 2008: 8:43 am: Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

The Washington Post (June 26, 2008) ran a piece entitled “Sudden Hearing Loss May Portend Stroke” The first three paragraphs read:

Sudden hearing loss may foreshadow a stroke by as much as two years,” say Taiwanese researchers.

The researchers analyzed five years of follow-up data on 1,423 patients hospitalized for an acute episode of sudden hearing loss and found they were more than 1.5 times more likely to suffer a stroke than a control group of 5,692 patients hospitalized for an appendectomy.

The findings, published in the current issue of Stroke, haven’t been duplicated in other research and should be interpreted with caution.

The article then goes on to muddy the waters and reaches no clear conclusions.

What the researchers don’t seem to realize is that this can make sense. if a person has a build-up of “gunk” in their arteries (to use a fancy medical term), and if that gunk should travel to one of the arteries in (or leading to) the inner ear and block blood flow there, the result is sudden and drastic hearing loss.

If the same gunk had traveled to the brain and blocked an artery there, the result would have been a stroke. Same condition—just a different location.

Now, since the arteries in the inner ear are among the smallest in the body, it doesn’t take much to block them. Thus such episodes of sudden hearing loss truly may indicate an underlying problem that, if not fixed, may lead to strokes and heart attacks if bigger pieces of gunk lodge in the brain or heart respectively. Thus it behooves us to heed warnings such as sudden hearing loss of vascular origin.

Having said that, there are lots of causes of sudden hearing loss that have nothing at all to do with vascular issue. Thus, don’t think if you get sudden hearing loss, you will get a stroke later—but it might be a precursor if you already have vascular issues.

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December 27, 2007: 7:40 pm: Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

Recently a man phoned me and explained,

My boss suddenly lost the hearing in one ear due to a virus. My question to you is—is he contagious? In other words, can I lose my hearing from being near him?

I’ve answered thousands of questions related to ears, but this is the first time this particular question has ever come up. Even though no one has asked it before, it is an excellent question.

There’s good news and bad news. First the bad news. Yes, he is contagious—in exactly the same way as if he had a cold or flu. If your immune system isn’t up to par, you could catch his cold or flu from being around him—because that is likely the kind of “bug” he has.

Now for the good news. The chances of your having the same reaction to his virus if you get it is minuscule. For example, I’ve heard of family members having sudden hearing loss from a virus, but I’ve never heard of another family member also getting the virus and having a sudden hearing loss. I’m sure it is possible, but it must be extremely rare if it does occur.

The virus that causes sudden deafness is not some strange, esoteric virus, but just the regular viruses that are around us like cold viruses, flu viruses, Chicken Pox (Varicella) viruses, etc. Normally they cause all the symptoms you know well, but sometimes, for whatever reason, they get into the inner ear and wreak havoc there resulting in sudden hearing loss and/or balance problems.

Personally, I wouldn’t be at all worried about “catching” sudden hearing loss from your boss.

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July 24, 2007: 2:31 pm: Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

Sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency. That is not in doubt. What is in doubt is how doctors should best treat sudden hearing loss.

Treatment for sudden hearing loss currently includes steroids, antiviral medications, vasodilators, hyperbaric oxygen, and to a lesser extent, vitamins, minerals and herbs, Some ear specialists choose not to treat Sudden Hearing Loss at all—citing spontaneous recovery rates of between 32% and 70%. However, giving steroids such as Prednisone is by far the most popular treatment.

So what’s the problem? The shocking truth is that there is little scientific evidence that supports the use of Prednisone, or any other treatment for that matter, according to an analysis of 21 random studies done on Sudden Hearing Loss over the past 40 years according to researchers Drs. Anne Conlin and Lorne Parnes in Ontario, Canada.

In the studies they analyzed, the doctors found positive results reported for systemic steroids (pills), intratympanic steroids (injected through the eardrum), batroxobin (an anti-clotting agent), magnesium, vitamin E and hyperbaric oxygen. However, they also found serious limitations in each study that had a positive finding, thus throwing these results in doubt.

Drs. Conlin and Parnes wrote: “To our knowledge, no valid randomized controlled trial exists to determine effective treatment of sudden sensorineural hearing loss.” In other words, there is no proof that any treatment really works.

For example, after pooling the data that compared steroids with placebos, the results showed no difference between treatment groups, In addition, there was no difference in the results between people treated with antivirals plus steroids vs. those treated with placebos plus steroids. Nor was there any difference in the results between people treated with steroids vs. people treated with any other active treatment.

The authors conclude, “At present, sudden sensorineural hearing loss remains a medical emergency without a scientific understanding of its cause or a rational approach to its treatment.”

Therefore, until studies are done which prove what treatments (if any) are effective, you may be just as far ahead to do nothing and let nature take its course. The odds are good that your hearing will come back—at least partially, but if it doesn’t, the treatments your doctor would prescribe likely wouldn’t help you much either.

The problem is in knowing whether hearing came back because of the medical treatment, or in spite of it. The tendency is to think it was because of the treatment, but this apparently is not a good assumption at all.

However, if you feel you want to take the “shotgun approach” and try any or all the treatments in hopes that one will work for you, go right ahead. That is your prerogative. Just don’t expect miracles as there are still far too many unknowns about the effectiveness of any current treatments for Sudden Hearing Loss.

Extracted from the Archives of Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery (Vol. 133, No 6, 573-581 and 582-586).

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January 18, 2007: 12:32 pm: Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A young man pleaded:

Please help, I have experienced severe hearing loss in my left ear. I am already deaf in my right ear. I currently have a cold, nothing serious, and am praying this is the cause.

I have been taking Prozac for 3 weeks now. I also take Propranolol when needed for anxiety.

My right ear developed a cholesteatoma and I had a mastoidectomy when I was very young leaving me almost totally deaf in this ear. I have always coped fine as the hearing in my left ear has always been perfect.

Three days ago I woke up with my hearing down to about 15%. I saw one doctor yesterday who gave me a decongestant and asked me to take olive oil drops for the wax in there and see her in a week. I am very scared about this, Please give me advice ASAP. I have read worrying stories on the net.

You are right to be concerned over this significant sudden hearing loss–even more so since your other ear is deaf. The first thing you want to determine, if possible, is whether this loss is from the wax in your ear, or from your being stuffed up by the cold, or whether it is something else, and thus is a true medical emergency, in which case you want to see an ear specialist now.

Let’s look at each of these factors in turn.

I can’t see that ear wax would cause massive hearing loss overnight. Typically, ear wax builds up and slowly fills the ear canal and causes increasing conductive hearing loss. Even if the wax shifted and suddenly blocked your ear canal, you would still be able to hear via bone conduction–but at a lower level. It would not cause you to lose most of your hearing.

The same goes for colds. If the results of the cold clogs up your middle ear, you would also have a conductive hearing loss. However, even if you are congested, you don’t lose 85% of your hearing overnight! As with the ear wax, you would still be able to hear via bone conduction.

The two drugs you are taking are both ototoxic and can cause hearing loss. Although Prozac (Fluoxetine) can cause hearing loss, I wouldn’t expect it to act quite so fast. I’d expect it to take 3 or more months. Even then it should not cause sudden hearing loss–but you never know–everyone is different.

Propranolol can also cause hearing loss, so it might be a contributing agent, but a rather doubt it in your case.

My feeling is that you may have had a viral attack. Thus you should treat it as a medical emergency until it is proven otherwise. This means you want to get in to see an ear specialist now. Any ear specialist that won’t see you today doesn’t understand about hearing loss being a medical emergency and is not a doctor you want to go to.

I suggest you read my short article on how to decide whether your hearing loss is likely a medical emergency or not called Sudden Hearing Loss–Medical Emergency or Just a Cold? After you have read it, click on the links there, and read the two articles to which it refers. Then you can decide for yourself what you want to do.

Me? I’d hurry to a knowledgeable ENT or preferably otologist today and see what they suggest. The common treatment for sudden hearing loss is a course of steroids (Prednisone) and also, if they suspect a virus, an antiviral drug as well. Time is of essence if this is a viral attack.

There are no guarantees that treatment will bring your hearing back–but you are giving yourself the best chance. You should also be aware that the latest research indicates that spontaneous hearing recovery without any treatment whatsoever occurs in from 30% to 60% of the cases of sudden hearing loss. As a result, taking a wait-and-see attitude may work–but if it doesn’t, by the time you finally seek medical help, it will be too late for the drugs to do much good.

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August 10, 2006: 7:57 am: Coping Strategies, Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A man explained:

Almost 5 years ago I suffered from Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss in my right ear. I have been told that it was the result of a virus and at present no help exists.

I have found some help with the use of a behind-the-ear hearing aid in my right ear and a completely-in-canal hearing aid for the left ear, but I need more help. What should I do?

When your doctor said “no help exists” he really meant that no medical help exists. This is true since too much time has gone by since this hearing loss occurred. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no help. On the contrary, there is help available. What you need is help in learning how to successfully live with your hearing loss. One great resource is the book “Help! I’ve Lost My Hearing—What Do I Do Now?

As you have already discovered, hearing aids are not the whole answer to hearing loss. Yes, they do help in many situations, but they are not the whole answer.

In fact, there are 5 areas you need to address in order to successfully cope with your hearing loss. Hearing aids are just one of the five. Too many people think hearing aids are all they need. This is just not so.

The five areas you need to address in order to successfully live with your hearing loss are:

1. Psychologically adjust to your hearing loss. This includes working through the grieving process in relation to your hearing loss. (If you don’t do this, you are not even ready to wear hearing aids—and likely won’t.) The grieving process is explained in the short book “Grieving for Your Hearing Loss—the Rocky Road from Denial to Acceptance“. This book has helped many people deal with their hearing loss.

2. Wear properly-fitted hearing aids. The emphasis here is on “properly-fitted” hearing aids. So often, people do not wear their hearing aids because they are not properly adjusted to their specific hearing needs.

3. Use assistive (and alerting) devices to supplement your hearing aids. There are many, many of these devices—ranging from amplified telephones, to loop systems and personal amplifiers, to doorbells that flash red lights in your house, to simple things such as turning on the closed captioning on your TV so you can read the words you don’t hear. You can learn about some of these wonderful devices here.

4. Practice Speechreading (lipreading) all the time. The easiest way to do this is to always watch peoples faces when they are speaking. There is also an excellent CD,called “Seeing and Hearing Speech” that will really help you with improving your speechreading abilities.

5. Use the many coping strategies available to you in most situations such as get closer to the speaker, cut out background noise as much as possible, have the speaker face you and have adequate light on his face, etc. The short book, “Talking with Hard of Hearing People—Here’s How to Do It Right” explains many of these simple and free techniques that make life so much easier.

Using all 5 together greatly improves your ability to communicate with other people with the least stress and strain to you. I know. I use them all the time.

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January 5, 2006: 10:03 am: Sudden Hearing Loss

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

You have a cold and now you notice you can’t hear well out of one or both ears. It/they feel plugged up and you can’t hear well. Now comes the million dollar question. Is this hearing loss just because you have a cold (resulting in fluid in your middle ear) and will resolve itself in a week or two as your cold goes away? Or is this sudden hearing loss caused by a virus attacking your inner ear–in which case this is a medical emergency and needs to be treated now?

For years, most primary care physicians have assumed that it was the former case and told their patients to come back in a couple of weeks if their hearing had not returned. As a result, those people that actually had a viral attack wasted their precious golden hours when treatment could be successful and now are tragically left with a permanent hearing loss.

Fortunately for us, Dr. Jeffery Harris, chief of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center has recently come up with a quick test to separate the two conditions.

Here is all you need to do, assuming that only one ear is “blocked.” Hum out loud. If you hear your voice louder in the blocked ear, the problem is congestion (fluid in the middle ear) and is probably temporary until your cold goes away and your ear clears.

However, if you hear your voice louder in your good ear, this probably indicates a viral attack causing permanent hearing loss if left untreated. If this is your case, seek treatment immediately. This is a true medical emergency and needs to be treated now if you want a chance of getting your hearing back. According to Dr. Harris, your chances of getting your hearing back with immediate treatment are greater than 50%.

If both ears are blocked equally, this little test isn’t going to work (unless you can remember how loud humming sounded before you got the cold–and then apply the above rules). Thus, it is better to err on the side of caution if you have reduced hearing in both ears and seek competent medical help now.

Read my articles “Sudden Hearing Loss Is a Medical Emergency” and “Finding the Right Doctor for Sudden Hearing Loss and Other Ear Problems.” These articles will help you make informed decisions on what you should do next.

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