Category Archives: October 30, 2013

Fade to silence: A brief history of my hearing loss progression

As I mentioned in my previous post, hearing is a very complex process. Let me back up to the beginning… I was born in 1961… OK, OK, I won’t go that far back. I’ll only provide relevant information as it relates to me going deaf.

Mid 1960s: When I was five years old I completely lost hearing in my left ear due to German Measles (or mumps) – essentially nerve damage. Over the years I adapted and life went on just swimmingly (I’ll share the many ways I’ve adapted in later posts).

1994: I had my first tinnitus episode – loud ringing in my right ear that made it very difficult to hear. Extremely frustrating and scary since this whole tinnitus thing was new to me. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease (Endolymphatic Hydrops). The doctors ran a lot of tests over a couple of days including what I call the, “Sputnik Monkey tests.” Essentially the “Sputnik Monkey tests” involved me standing up straight, strapping me into a harness, blindfolding me, and then altering the angle of the floor beneath my feet. Amazingly when the floor angle was slightly altered I immediately fell on my face… almost. The harness did what it was supposed to do –  it broke my fall, leaving me dangling above the ground like an inebriated puppet.

So what did this mean? It likely meant that when I had German measles the nerve damage also compromised my vestibular system or inner ear balancing mechanism. Basically I’ve relied my whole life (since age 5) on my eyes for balancing (proprioception). The doctors proceeded to test me several more times just to make sure. Each time with the blindfold on I fell immediately – it was actually very funny. The times they did not blindfold me I was able to stay upright. The doctors then asked me a bunch of questions like, “do you play sports? What type of sports? Do you have trouble walking on the beach at night? etc. Yes, I replied that I’ve played sports all my life, tennis, racquetball, soccer, long distance running.

The doctors then explained that I’ve adapted very well under the circumstances and to keep doing whatever it was that I’ve been doing. So basically I can spin around and around and not get dizzy – perhaps a useful skill for a NASA astronaut? There is still time… The major take-away from all this is that I do not exhibit all the symptoms of Meniere’s disease, namely vertigo. Having tinnitus or ringing in the ears is bad enough; I couldn’t imagine also having vertigo – I understand that it can be quite debilitating.

Fortunately, this episode in 1994 was short lived; the ringing stopped and hearing in my right ear bumped back up to near normal. The major drawback was taking prednisone – a drug whose side effects were so bad that I seriously considered not taking it again even it meant going deaf;  which was easy for me to say back when I had most of my hearing intact in my good ear.

2007: My second tinnitus episode flares up and lasted longer than the first one. I did my round of prednisone, reduced salt intake (low sodium diet), stopped drinking coffee (minimized caffeine intake which included chocolate and other life-enriching things). My hearing declined slightly after this episode.

2010:  Roxanne knew that my hearing was gradually getting worse so she convinced me to get a hearing aid – and it really helped! Please, my dear reader, if you know someone who has a hearing problem please talk to them about getting a hearing aid – it will make a huge difference. If YOU have a hearing problem just get a damned hearing aid and don’t worry about how you might look! Heads-up, there are over 48 million people in the US with hearing loss and this number is only growing. By the way, October is National Protect Your Hearing Month! More on hearing aids in later posts…

2012: Third major tinnitus episode. The loud ringing in my ear remained rather constant despite prednisone treatments. My good ear was beginning to burn out. Regarding ringing in the ear, it was loud, roaring, pulsing, ticking, high pitched, low pitched; a constant distraction that did not go away. Quite maddening.

Summer 2013: My word comprehension in my good ear was down to 8%. I basically relied on reading lips now. I became a cochlear implant candidate.

In tomorrow’s post I will wrap up my chronology by filling you in on what transpired the past year – becoming a cochlear implant candidate, taking various medications, navigating the world of insurance, and learning more about the world I will be entering…

I need to sign off and start watching that Lord of the Rings movie. I believe we left off half-way through the first movie; at this rate we’ll finish the trilogy by Christmas! Roxanne has been patiently waiting…