Hearing underwater – adventures in hearing loss

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At the best of times, my hearing isn’t great. Due to allergies, chronic infections and multiple surgeries, I have about 25 % of the hearing in my left ear. My family and friends know to sit or walk on my right side; otherwise, I’m like a post. However, about a month ago, my right ear blocked up and I can’t hear much of anything. I Know my ear has fluid in it – I can feel it. It’s like I’m swimming in the lake and I can hear sounds above me, but I can’t quite make out the words. So far, I haven’t been able clear it out sufficiently to hear much of anything.

This is not the first time my “good” ear has become blocked. But it’s usually a short-term problem, precipitated by a cold or a bad bout of allergies. Since I’m particularly susceptible to mould and pollen, early spring is often a difficult time for me. As soon as the snow starts to melt, all kinds of crud and other nasties are exposed to the air – “snow mould” is probably my worst allergy. But most years, I experience minor problems and after a couple of days and liberal use of saline nasal spray, all is right again. Not this year. I’ve been using saline spray on a regular basis (gross and messy), manually trying to clear my ears (plug one ear, hold nose and blow gently) and taking a handful of supplements prescribed by naturopath. To no avail.

To be clear, I’m not quite deaf. But I can’t hear the radio or TV unless they’re both cranked up to a volume that would blow out the eardrums of a normal person. In order to protect my husband’s hearing, as well as M’s, I’ve taken to listening to the radio via my iPod. I don’t even try with the television – closed caption is my best friend. Always an avid reader, I increasingly opt for going to bed early and reading.

I’ve discovered that we live in a noisy world. While I can get by with not hearing everything, not hearing very much is challenging.  While I can hear sound, I have much more difficulty distinguishing individual words. On the one hand, it’s very hard to know what’s going on at work. I have to pay close attention to body language and watch people’s facial expressions. Large groups are a challenge and I’ve taken to asking my colleagues to represent me at meetings. I’ve been pretty upfront with my co-workers and my supervisor, but I feel increasingly isolated, as if I’m living in another time and space continuum. I’ve started spending more time in my office, as opposed to interacting with my colleagues, since it’s hard work trying to understand what they’re saying. Intellectually, I know this isn’t an effective coping strategy, but hearing – or trying to hear – is hard work. Having become disconnected from the sounds – and the people – around me, I find it’s just easier to retreat into my own space. I’m generally exhausted at the end of the day. While M and his dad are generally very patient with me, it’s stressful for them too. I’m constantly asking them to repeat themselves. M has taken to saying “never mind”, instead of finishing a conversation with me.

Having fluid in my ear affects my balance and I feel dizzy much of the time. Due to the unseasonably cool and wet weather, I haven’t jumped on my bike. But truth be told, I’m a bit afraid to ride – I’m not sure how well I’ll be able ear the traffic around me. I’m generally comfortable with urban bike riding, but I’m less certain at the moment. The down side is that riding my bike to work is good for my mental and physical health. I’m walking as much as I can, but it’s not the same. I’m quite surprised the degree to which my lack of hearing is affecting my overall quality of life.

I’m optimistic that my current situation is temporary. I have an appointment with a specialist next month. One option may be to put a tube into my ear. It involves surgery under general anesthetic, which is no picnic, but having had the same procedure done at least a dozen times on both ears, I know what to expect. In the grand scheme of aliments, it could be much worse – after all, I have all my limbs and my organs. Having a wonky ear is relatively minor on the scale of physical aliments.

My recent experience has reinforced for me that I don;t want to be cut off from the world. While I’ve been resisting getting a hearing aid in my left ear for years, once the issues with my right ear  are resolved, I’m going to go ahead and and get one. I’m looking forward to the noise.

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4 responses »

  1. I have a lot of the same issues. My left ear has given me trouble for years. I found something at the health food store called Uncle Wally’s Ear drops.. I put some on a piece of cotton and though I do not stuff it way down in my ear (which would add a mess of cotton to the already waterlogged mess), I keep it in my ear on my worst days. It has eucalyptus and mullein which are great for your ears. The gentle fumes permeate the ear canal and help keep it clearer. The bottle lasts quite a while too. If you can find it, give it a try. I like it much better than allergy meds or nasal sprays. I also use Yee Tin oil which is an Oriental oil advertised as “skin lotion” Because of ear problems, I often get headaces. Yee Tin oil is great and will knock out a major headache in 20 seconds flat. The tiny bottle will last a year or more. If I am having a particularly bad “allergy” day, I use just a drop under my nose to help unclog those nasal passages and ear canals. I also use it when I am going to be in a public place where everyone is wearing a lot of perfume. Perfume, strong scented hair sprays, fabric softeners, etc, play hell with my ears and nose!

    • thanks for the useful tips. My allergies are pretty bad right now due to all the pollen in the air, but as soon as everything blooms, they should settle down, which will help my sinuses and my ear.

  2. Oh, Susan. I’m so sorry to read about your hearing issues (and I apologize for not commenting sooner, but I’m so behind n blog reading these days!) and the isolation you are feeling. Hopefully your right ear will unplug on its own, even if it takes longer than usual for it to do so. If not, you have a good support network on your family and at least this gets you thinking about coping with hearing loss on your left ear. I have my fingers crossed for you that it will all be resolved painlessly and swiftly.

    • Hi Andrea – thanks for your kind words. My ear is a little better. I have an appointment with a specialist at the end of the month, so hopefully we can figure out what’s going on. My birthday is coming up and my son told me he if he could, he’d give me my hearing back – very sweet. Take care.

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