written by Carly Sygrove of My Hearing Loss Story
Nine months ago I was sitting in a school auditorium, listening to a guest speaker giving a presentation. I am a teacher of Early Years children, and this was part of the school training sessions, a week before the start of the new school year. I lifted my head up from writing some notes, and out of nowhere came a loud screeching sound that filled my head with pressure. The sound grew quieter into a dull ringing, but the pressure continued and I was soon feeling light-headed and disoriented. This is how I lost the hearing in my left ear. There was no accident or known infection or virus that caused it. There was nothing inside my ear blocking the sound. It was not a gradual deterioration. My hearing just disappeared. I had experienced something called sudden sensorineural hearing loss.The treatment that followed was anti-inflammatories and nasal sprays prescribed by my doctor. When these didn’t help, I was referred to a specialist, who told me to go to the hospital where I received a week-long course or intravenous corticosteroids and anti-viral medication. I continued taking the corticosteroids for another four weeks after leaving the hospital. I also received four injections of steroids directly into my ear, each a week apart. I went for an MRI scan which ruled out a tumour as the cause of my hearing loss; which of course I was relieved by. Yet nobody was able to find a cause of the loss of my hearing. Despite the medication and treatments I received, there was no improvement in my condition. I am now severely deaf in my left ear.
The obvious problem with being deaf in one ear is that I can’t hear. I have read about other people’s stories of sudden hearing loss and it seems that everybody’s experiences are unique. Many people lose their hearing in similar ways such as hearing a pop in their ear or feeling a fullness sensation in their head accompanied by pressure. Yet the after-effects can differ a lot. For me, it is not the actual deafness that is the main issue I am dealing with, but rather the other ‘hidden extras’ that come with my condition. Of course, I get frustrated by not being able to hear well. How many times can I ask my boyfriend what he has just said to me? How many times can you ask someone to repeat themselves, before they decide that what they were saying ‘doesn’t matter’? But I am facing more challenging issues than just having unilateral hearing.
With only one hearing ear, I have no idea where sound is coming from. I might hear some music or a noise, but I won’t know which way to look to see what has produced the sound. Sound localization is a skill enabled by having two working ears, not one. I find it difficult to filter out background noise. When I am in a place with sounds such as traffic, people talking or music, and somebody tries to speak to me, I cannot hear them unless they are standing very close to me on my hearing side. Another issue I am having is that I developed a sensitivity to sound. I find loud noises painful and with loud noises, my head fills with pressure. The kitchen is an orchestra of cutting sounds: water running and clinking as it splashes in the metal sink, kitchen pots and pans clanging together, the ping of the microwave and the beeping of the washing machine, and the oven fan that blends the other sounds together; making a mass of pressure in my ears. Another uncomfortable part of my day is when I open the main door to the block of apartments where I live, and am immediately faced with city sounds of traffic and people. Eating crisps, or anything crunchy such as crusty bread, sounds so loud and distorted in my head. This was originally something I found really difficult to cope with, but seems to be getting better with familiarity.
One of the most upsetting things is that I have realized that many of the things I love involve noise. I love music and listening to podcasts on my IPod. Now I no longer can enjoy music how I used to. I have programmed my earphones to filter all the sounds from music into mono so that it ensures I don’t lose the sound of the drums or vocals when using only one headphone. However, this obviously means that all the sound goes into my right ear, which is already dealing with enough right now, and soon becomes uncomfortable with the intensity of the noise.
I regularly feel exhausted. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s my body trying to adapt and cope with feeling off balance and sensitive to my surroundings. Everyday sounds are tiring. With tiredness comes the difficulty of concentrating on individual sounds, which in turn makes the process of hearing conversation difficult. I also have continuous tinnitus in my deaf ear. For me, my tinnitus is rarely just one constant sound, but rather a mixture. Some common sounds for me are: the sounds of swimming with my head underwater, bells, ringing and whooshing – like the sound from those corrugated plastic tubes that children swing in circles to make a noise. During the daytime I am often able to disconnect from my tinnitus, as there are usually other ‘real’ sounds to occupy my hearing. However, when I am lying in bed trying to sleep I hear only my tinnitus. Every day at this moment, I wish for silence.
There have been difficult times where I have lost my confidence or when I’ve experienced moments of sadness and the feeling of loss. I sometimes think it would be easier to have been deaf in one ear all my life, than for it just to happen to me. I know how great music can sound in stereo. I know how easy it can be to talk with people and hear their responses over background noise. I know how it feels to enjoy the loudness of the cinema or to experience the force of live music at a festival bouncing through your body. I also know there are people going through much more difficult and scary things. Yet it is only human nature to feel sad. I have felt angry at my body for letting me down. I lost a part of me that played a big role in enabling me to interact with the world. I am starting to deal with it. I will keep trying every day, to tackle the new challenges that come with my hearing loss. Eventually I want to be able to embrace my hearing loss, and not let it upset me, rather for me to take control. I want to enjoy the hearing that I do have and feel grateful for it.