Sudden Hearing Loss: The Volume Has Been Turned Down

Recently (almost eight weeks ago to be exact), I started to feel a sensation of “fullness” in my left ear.   My daughter was only six weeks old, and I was barely recovering from my c-section, so I thought I would let my body try to heal whatever was bothering me.   Being a sleep deprived new mother and with my daughter as my first priority, I didn’t want to run to the doctor until I at least gave this thing a chance to go away on it’s own.   I had a few symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, so I figured that this must have been part of the package.

Two days later, I woke up to horrible, FLAMING pain in my left ear, to the point where I was actually in tears, and I could barely hear out of my left ear.  Obviously, it was time to get this thing checked out.  I called my mom to come and take care of Summer (my daughter) so I could go see my doctor.   By the time I arrived at the doctor, the pain was unbearable.   He said I had an “angry eardrum” and prescribed some amoxicillin (safe for breastfeeding) and ear drops to ease the pain.   I was diagnosed with an acute middle ear infection, and was told that once the fluid drained out of my ear, that my hearing would return, and that this could take a few weeks.

I went home and immediately started the antibiotics.   I was in excruciating pain and could not wait for the pain to go away.

That evening, the pain had gradually subsided.  I went to bed–I could only sleep on my left side since if I slept on my right side, my “bad” ear would be facing up, and I feared not being able to hear my daughter if she cried in the night.

The next day I woke up, and I felt a little queasy, but the pain in my ear was not as bad.   Yet as the hours in the day went on, I started to feel increasingly dizzy, disoriented, and generally, not right.   I called my mom back to help with the baby, since I was really concerned that I was not in any condition to care for her.   Within a few hours, I had severe vertigo, and was vomiting violently.    This was absolutely the worst sensation imaginable; something I would not wish on my worst enemy.   When I thought of postpartum weight loss, this violent vomiting was certainly not what I had in mind.  I also called my husband, who was out of town on business and asked him to come home early–whatever I had was not good, and I could not take care of the baby on my own.   As the vomiting and vertigo worsened late into the evening, I ended up calling Tele-Health Ontario, who advised me to get to an evening walk-in or to the ER due to the symptoms I was experiencing.   By this point, my husband had made it home early from his business trip to take care of the baby.   My mom was there to drive me to seek medical attention.

Not wanting an eight hour wait in the ER, I went to the walk-in clinic, and the doctor had no real good explanation for my vertigo and vomiting other than the ear infection, and he told me that with the amoxicillin and ear drops, that my doctor had put me on the right course.   He gave me an anti-nausea medication, and said the symptoms should gradually subside. All I wanted to do was keep water and food down, so that I had enough nutrition to breastfeed my daughter.   I also wanted the world to stop spinning, so that I could care for her.

By the next day, I was able to keep basic food down.   The lightheadedness was still there, but all I cared about was being able to eat and function for Summer.   Over the next few days, the pain in my ear gradually subsided, but the feeling of “fullness” was still there, and my hearing had not yet returned.   The feeling of “fuzziness” and occasional “dizziness” have been with me ever since.   Additionally, I had a ringing in my left ear that would not go away.

Every 10 days or so, I returned to the doctor to get my ear checked–my hearing had not yet improved, and since I have a young daughter, we were both frequently at the doctor anyway for her checkups, so I thought it was best to continue to monitor my ear.   I must have been back about three or four times over the course of five weeks, only to be told that the “fluid did not drain out of my ear yet” and that this could take a while longer, but that once the fluid drained, my hearing would return back to normal.

After five weeks, I finally went back to the doctor, and asked to be referred to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist).   I had read an article that talked about inner ear viruses, and the risk of permanent hearing loss, and this sent me into a panic.   The doctor still saw fluid behind my eardrum, and said this was likely the cause of the poor hearing, but agreed that five weeks was a long time for this to be going on, so I was given a referral to an ENT.   The next week, I followed up with the ENT to see when my appointment was.  Fortunately, despite the fact that my first appointment was not supposed to be until January, the ENT graciously fit me into his tight schedule early since I have a young baby to take care of, and I really, really wanted some answers, as well as my hearing back.

The visit to the ENT shocked me:   my left ear examination was completely normal.   There was no visible fluid or obstruction that was getting in the way of my hearing.  Obviously, the fluid had drained out.  Yet my hearing was still not back–certain tones were off, and it feels like the volume has been turned right down in my left ear.   Just as bad as the hearing loss was the Tinnitus–a condition that often results from hearing loss, which leaves a ringing in you ear.   This is caused by the neurons in your brain compensating for the missing sound information.   Sometimes, Tinnitus is like “crickets”–I can live with it as long as there’s background sound/daytime noise to distract me.   However, at night, Tinnitus sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, and has horribly affected my sleep.   Also just as bad, is the ongoing sensation of fatigue and dizziness.  I was told at this visit, to face the reality that this hearing loss may be permanent.

Usually, I deal pretty well with adversity.   Life is typically not fair or easy, but we have to accept it and make the best of it.   However, that day, I sat in the doctors office and cried.   Why was this happening to me right after giving birth?   My daughter deserves a healthy mom, and my biggest fear is not being able to hear her.   I had slept on my left side for the past six weeks, just in case she cried in the night and I could not hear her.  I tried to explain this to the doctor, and he said before jumping to conclusions, that we should conduct a hearing test to seek some further answers.

Last week, I went for my hearing test and it showed moderate to severe hearing loss in the 3,000 Hz frequencies and higher in my left ear.    The lower tones (men’s voices, most conversational speech) were OK, but the higher tones (tones in music, and some women/children’s voices) were impaired.   The test showed no conductive hearing loss (which tends to be temporary)–the type of hearing loss was classified as sensorineural hearing loss, which tends to be permanent.

In my ENT’s interpretation of my symptoms and this hearing test, his diagnosis was that this started with an inner ear virus.   It is rare, but when it does happen, apparently it most often happens to women in their thirties–my exact demographic.  He classified the type of hearing loss as “sudden,” meaning that the prognosis within the first year is around a 50% chance that I could spontaneously get my hearing back.    After the first year, the chances are slim.   As a next step, he prescribed a inner ear medication to ease the dizziness, and we have a follow up hearing test/visit in six weeks.

I am writing this, because this is the beginning of a journey for me–I’m going to do everything in my power to get better.   The most important thing in my life now is my daughter, and she deserves a healthy mom.  I am also writing this, because something very similar happened to my own sister and at least two of my friends–it is more common than we think and I would hope that through a community, that maybe others can offer guidance, advice, or stories of a similar nature that may provide hope.

I realize that this is not the end of the world, but this is certainly adversity that I did not plan for, as we rarely do.  I am also trying to keep a glass-half-full outlook–I know that this could have been way worse, but I do feel that a long journey may be ahead.  I hope and pray for a positive result.  The bottom line is, that hearing loss is scary and can be isolating, and I want to create a community for anyone who has been in the same boat. I will keep this blog updated with my progress and welcome comments from anyone who has a similar story.

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