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Deafness Part 1

26 days to go

The 7th to 13th May is Deaf awareness week so I thought I would share the story of how deafness has affected my life.

Deafness or loss of hearing can be anything from a mild hearing impairment to a profound state where it is impossible to hear sound.  It can be temporary brought about for example by wax blocking the ear canal or from an ear infection, or the loss can be permanent. Very occasionally, the loss can be sudden.

Most commonly there is a gradual reduction of hearing with ageing. People notice that they mishear what is being said, sometimes much to the hilarity of family and friends, they ask for things to be repeated, need to turn up the volume on radio or television and find it increasingly difficult to participate in social situations.

I experienced Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, SSHL, nine years ago. I had previously very good hearing until one afternoon driving home when I was aware of a roaring noise which I initially thought must be some horrific happening in the engine.  Almost as suddenly I had rushing sensation on one side of my head accompanied by a feeling of swelling as if it was going to explode. I made the last mile home by which time I realised something was amiss with one of my ears and I couldn’t hear properly. Shortly afterwards my balance failed me and I couldn’t stand unaided.

SSHL is an emergency and I was referred urgently to the Ear, Nose and Throat consultant on call and over the next few days had a variety of tests including brain scans – all rather worrying.

SSHL is relatively uncommon and in the large hospital department I attended they told me they see about 2-3 cases a year. Their catchment area serves a local population of 400,000 people. Possible causes are thought to be a viral infection, (none evident), trauma (I hadn’t experienced any trauma), impaired circulation (not apparent) or tumour (excluded by MRI scans). I was prescribed a variety of medicines aimed at treating the main potential causes of the condition and had a series of steroid injections into the middle ear over a three week period – all to no avail.

Essentially, for some reason, the sensory hair cells in the cochlea in the inner ear had become damaged – an irretrievable state. This means they are unable to send the relevant messages to the brain interpreting sound and allow me to ‘hear’ and recognise noise. The auditory nerve though remains well, is permanently active, trying to make sense of noise around me. Without a functioning cochlea to interpret sound, all I get is white noise or tinnitus.  My world is never silent.

In part 2 I’ll explain how SSHL has affected me.


A river cuts through rock, not because of its power but because of its persistence