My loaner hearing aid was made by Phonak. My audiologist programmed it to my hearing loss. My first impression was that I was glad to actually be able to hear sounds, or should I say noise! I thought a hearing aid would help me be able to communicate, and it did. What I didn’t expect, though, was how many other noises it picked up and how loud they were, especially compared to voices which still could have been louder.
One thing that amazed me, and I wrote about several times in my journal, was how incredibly exhausted I was. I went online to find out why I felt so tired. There is a condition that’s called different things like hearing fatigue and hearing exhaustion. It happens because of the additional concentration required to communicate – trying to study the person talking to you to read their lips and body language, trying to put meaning into the words you think you hear. It’s even worse in social situations when multiple people are talking and you are trying to keep up with the conversation including figuring out who is doing the talking. Some people experience less fatigue when they wear their hearing aids. I did, but not much. My hearing aids amplified the noise but I’ve always had to work hard to understand the words that were said. People with normal hearing listen passively meaning that it happens without much effort or attention. Many can multi-task with several conversations at the same time. People with hearing loss must actively work to comprehend what is being said. It can be very tiring. For me, my hearing is much worse in the evening if I’ve been working all day. And once I’m tired, I have to work that much harder to try to have a conversation.
So the day finally arrived for my appointment with my ENT. 10 days after I woke up with significant hearing loss in my right ear. The first thing they had me do was a repeat hearing test to see if there was any change following the oral steroids. There was no change. My ENT reviewed my hearing test to the one I had a week prior to make sure I understood that it didn’t show any change. He is a very kind and calm man and has always took time to make sure I understood everything he told me. He then shared information about what he considered to be the only other treatment he could offer me – intratympanic steroid injections. He shared with me that it was a relatively new treatment and research was showing mixed results, however, part of those mixed results included some individuals having part of their hearing restored. I was on the fence. I had read about the procedure, both patient accounts and some research. The patient accounts scared me because there is a lot of discomfort with the procedure. I’ve read a lot of medical studies in my life and considered the results I read about to be less than encouraging. I was on the fence! Finally I asked him what he would do if he were in my shoes. He didn’t hesitate in telling me that he would have the procedure because, even with the minor risks involved, I basically had nothing to lose. That hit me like a ton of bricks. My biggest fear over the past 10 days had been realized. I would likely never regain my hearing and my only hope of doing so rested in this procedure. I consented and we moved down the hall to the treatment room.
He explained the procedure very slowly to make sure I understood:
- He would first need to numb my eardrum. This would involve a numbing medicine that would be on a long q-tip and he would touch my eardrum with it for just a second. He said that this would not be comfortable but would keep my eardrum numb through the 3 once-a-week injections.
- Then he would inject a steroid solution through my eardrum into the space behind it with the hope that it would then move into the inner ear where the damage was going on. He said the solution would feel cold and could make me dizzy.
- I would then need to turn to my left side so my right ear was facing the ceiling to let gravity help the steroid solution get into the inner ear.
- I had to stay on my side for 30 minutes and to prevent the steroid solution from moving through the Eustachian tube I couldn’t swallow, yawn or pop my ear in any way.
It’s hard to describe the sensation of numbing my eardrum. There was a very sharp pain at first that lessened a bit but lingered. I didn’t feel the needle go through my eardrum but knew immediately when the steroid solution was being injected. He injected it slowly. It felt very cold and I was immediately room-spinning dizzy. I found a spot on the ceiling to try to focus on. When all of the steroid solution had been injected, the nurse motioned for me to turn onto my left side and gave me a couple of tissues to spit into (no swallowing for 30 minutes). I truly don’t know which was worse, the discomfort I still felt from the numbing medicine and the cold sensation inside my ear or trying to not swallow. I expected my mouth to be dry due to my heart racing, the dizziness and the discomfort, but I filled the 2 tissues quickly and had to ask for more. I still don’t know how I made 30 minutes of not swallowing.
The dizziness was gone by the time the 30 minutes had passed, but I had a bad earache. I went home instead of going back to work. The plan was to have 3 intratympanic steroid injections about a week apart. In the meantime, I was instructed to wear an earplug in that ear when I showered to keep water out of my ear.
I’ll pick this back up after my 3rd injection – stay tuned!