I woke up deaf in one ear and don’t know why – the day was August 31, 2014. I could hear just fine the night before when I went to bed, but woke that morning with what felt like cotton packed tightly in my right ear accompanied by an obnoxious ringing sound. Unfortunately, the doctor said everything looked fine. I was hoping to hear “ear infection” and thought that after a decongestant and a good antibiotic, all would be well. That was not the case.
After meeting with an ENT and Audiologist, getting x-rays, taking a strong regimen of oral steroids, and later steroid injections directly in the ear, there didn’t seem to be any improvement. I learned that sudden deafness in one ear is fairly common – approximately 1 in 5000 people every year develop sudden deafness – and that the cause is often unknown.
I still have hope for partial or complete recovery. My ENT said that he as seen people make improvements as much as 18 months after onset. It’s been about 16 months for me, and I feel like I’ve shown some signs of improvement in many ways:
- The tinnitus (ringing) has toned down a bit
- High pitches and loud noises are not as painful as they used to be
- I can listen to and enjoy music now – that was terribly difficult and frustrating at first
- There are some frequencies that I can hear now that I couldn’t at first, like snapping my fingers next to my ear
To say that this experience has been difficult is a huge understatement. It’s amazing how it has impacted my world. Starting with the obvious, communicating and connecting with people has become very difficult at home, church, the office, anywhere. I’ve had to be conscientious of where I sit in meetings or at the dinner table to keep people on the side of my good ear. Sadly, I can’t change which side of the steering wheel is on when driving. (It’s the right ear.) I fly a lot, and it’s very difficult when I get a ‘talker’ on my right side. I often work in a booth at trade shows, a very noisy environment, and I really have to work hard, even to the point of reading lips, to carry on a conversation with people. I hate asking people to repeat themselves, but I do it anyway and hope they are patient. It can be frustrating, but I refuse to let it impact my ability to function or my self-esteem.
A big challenge at first was dealing with background noise or white noise. I never realized how noisy the HVAC system was at the office, but it sure made hearing with my good ear difficult. I’ve learned to tune it out now, but it was tough at first. Recognizing the direction of sound, where sound is coming from, is also difficult. I’ll hear my name, but have no clue which direction it came from.
The whole dynamic of sleeping has changed. I sleep from side to side. When my good ear is down, it’s a little unnerving – I can’t hear what’s going on around me or in the house. It’s even difficult to hear my alarm. I used to be what I would call a very alert sleeper, and would wake up to any unusual sound. I felt safe. Not so much now. I guess that’s got its pros and cons. J
Another huge challenge for me has been the impact on my ability to enjoy music. I’ve studied piano since the age of 4, received a piano scholarship in college, a published composer and arranger, a wedding singer, a singer, song writer, recording artist, who has performed in bands my whole life. I love listening to and making music. Initially, I was not able to play the piano, sing, or listen to music – it just sounded distorted – even painful. Now I’m able to listen comfortably, even with headphones, and it sounds pretty good. Singing is still a challenge. It’s hard to hear myself. I find myself second guessing my pitch.
That’s my story in a nutshell. My message to anyone dealing with sudden hearing loss is this:
- Be patient and hang in there – it gets easier with time
- Adapt as needed but don’t change your activities
- Work closely with your hearing care professional
To borrow a line from the band Journey, ‘don’t stop believing’ – keep hope alive and watch for improvement.
Written by, Jeff Bradford