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Bettina Turnbull, an audiologist, professional development manager for Connect Hearing and vice-president of the Australian College of Audiology shared her frightening experience of sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) with Hearing HQ magazine. Her story is reprinted in full below.

Recently, totally out of the blue I lost my hearing in one ear. Thankfully it has returned but it was frightening as there was a possibility that I could have ended up with permanent single-sided deafness.

As a hearing person who works with hearing-impaired patients it was a particularly eye-opening experience and I now have a much better understanding of how you “feel” when you have compromised hearing.

It happened at a training meeting. One of my ears blocked up and I started to hear an intermittent “chirp, chirp” sound like crickets at night. It was a very busy period and I thought a quiet weekend and sleep would sort it out, but a few days later the same thing happened at another training meeting. Only this time it was much worse with nausea and light-headedness where I couldn’t focus my thoughts.

Surrounded by audiologists, I had my hearing tested to confirm I wasn’t imagining the hearing loss and promptly took myself off to Melbourne’s Eye and Ear Hospital emergency department. I was seen by an ENT who diagnosed idiopathic SSNHL (“not sure why” hearing loss) but she suspected the causes was a virus. I was prescribed a fortnight-long high-dose course of the oral steroid prednisone and was advised not to fly for two weeks other than to get back home to Sydney (as flying stresses the ear and body).

I was told to rest and now I understand why. Taking steroids at such a high does was quite an experience – it’s like having your blood rush around your head at 20 times the speed it should and the side effects include anxiety and insomnia.

I was totally surprised at how difficult it was to hear in a noisy place, even with one good ear. I felt disoriented, frustrated and my brain had to work ten times harder to concentrate on hearing what was being said. (For audiologists, this is an area we perhaps underestimate and should talk about with patients rather than just focusing on volume, clarity and functions.)

I was also terrified that my hearing may not return and anxious to investigate further what may have caused the hearing loss.

Once home I contacted my ENT who organised an immediate MRI to check my inner ear structures were normal, which they were thankfully. He then injected another steroid – dexamethasone – into the middle ear space to be absorbed through the round and oval windows. This was done with a needle after anesthetising the tympanic membrane (eardrum). I was told to go home and lie on my good side for maximum absorption of the drug into the cochlea. Five days later I had another hearing test and things were very much improved. A week later my ENT repeated the injection treatment.

I am so relieved my hearing has returned. I still get ‘overload’ twang when sounds are quite loud but otherwise all sounds normal now.

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