My Recent Experience with Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Last April, something strange and unexpected happened to me. I noticed that my left ear felt clogged up, as if water was trapped in my ear canal, which was entirely possible from bathing or swimming. I went around for a week or two shaking my head wildly left and right, tugging on my ear lobe and repeatedly Googling terms such as “my ear feels clogged up” and “how to remove water trapped in your ear.” All to no avail. After a few more weeks of waiting for this mysterious symptom to resolve, I made an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (AKA an otolaryngologist, but try saying that three times with your mouth full!), who, after a thorough examination, referred me for a hearing test with an audiologist.

At this point I was a little confused but not at all concerned. It did seem weird that even after having impacted ear wax removed at the ENT’s office, the strange muffled sensation in my ear persisted. The hearing test, my first as an adult, revealed that I have a moderately-severe high frequency loss in my left ear, as well as mild loss in the right ear. Further testing revealed my hearing loss was permanent, unexplained, and that I would need hearing aids for both ears! Trust me when I tell you, I was in complete shock.

I was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). What does this mean? Well, there are three main types of hearing loss: SNHL, conductive, or mixed. SNHL is the most common type of hearing loss. It’s caused by damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain. When SSNL occurs over the course of just a day or two, it is known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Some possible causes of SNHL include genetics, aging, head trauma, exposure to loud music, or even certain ototoxic medications that have a deleterious effect on hearing. The truth is, though, like in my case, often a cause can not be determined.

Conductive hearing loss involves the middle or outer ear, and can be caused by things such as colds, allergies, ear infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction, impacted ear wax, or the presence of a foreign body, to name a few. In contrast to SNHL, conductive loss is more frequently treatable and reversible. A mixed hearing loss involves having both sensorineural and conductive loss at the same time.

As soon as I found out that I had partial but irreversible hearing loss that is likely to only get worse over time, I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything in my power to mitigate the communication difficulties that accompany hearing loss. I wasted no time in getting fitted for high quality hearing aids. Hearing aids have come a long way from the “ear trumpets” of days gone by. The latest hearing aids are state of the art, programmable, and designed to be comfortable and unobtrusive. An audiologist works with the patient over time to tweak the settings for optimal effectiveness.

In addition to wearing hearing aids, I am planning on taking a speech/lip reading class, as this skill can be important to help fill in the blanks when in noisy environments such as restaurants. I have only just started to explore assistive listening technologies such as hearing loops and captioning in public venues, as well as personal listening devices. Finally, I have found many organizations online that offer advocacy, education, and support for those affected by hearing loss and related conditions. Having hearing loss is a highly individual experience, but it can be isolating, so it is wonderful to connect with others who understand what it is like and who can offer advice and support.

Sadly, a stigma still surrounds hearing loss in our society. This is part of the reason I wanted to share my personal experience. Stigma makes people feel ashamed and so they keep information to themselves that may actually benefit others also experiencing the same problem. Silence perpetuates stigma, stereotypes, and misinformation. I have decided that even though I may sometimes feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, it is in my best interest to advocate for myself and to be honest about my hearing loss.

My personal advice to anyone experiencing a change in your hearing is to see your doctor ASAP. Even if you think you just have a cold or a clogged up ear, do not delay seeking treatment because some types of sudden hearing loss may be reversible if treated immediately. However, even if you have been avoiding getting treatment for a long-standing problem, please stop burying your head in the sand – there is help! I recently read a statistic that the average hard of hearing person waits seven years before seeking treatment for their hearing loss. People will suffer in silence because of fear or shame rather than admit to a problem that can be effectively treated and managed, leading to an enhanced quality of life.

Depending upon severity and individual circumstances, the effects of hearing loss upon an individual can range from mildly inconvenient to completely life altering, but by addressing your particular situation head on, you can minimize further negative consequences and take control of your life.

There is life after hearing loss!

Andrea L. Dowling has been with HCLS since 2006, and is currently an Assistant Customer Service Supervisor at the HCLS East Columbia Branch. Andrea’s interests include genealogy, travel, reading banned books, and collecting vintage cook books.