Anxiety and disbelief over sudden hearing loss and tinnitus

Posted by chuckm @chuckm, Jun 2, 2019

About 20 years ago I developed very mild tinnitus. I habituated to it and rarely noticed it except in a quiet room. I was careful to protect my hearing so it never worsened. On May 9 this year I went to see my dentist to start the process of getting a crown on a molar. As soon as he began working with this drill. to remove the old tooth I experienced a very loud painful screeching noise in both ears. I stopped him and told him what was happening. I don't recall what he said but, stupidly, I allowed him to continue working despite the painful noise. I had to stop him several times because it was unbearable. I remember gripping my belt as he worked. At one point he offered me little rolls of cotton to put in my ears but that didn't help. It wasn't the noise coming into my ears externally I was hearing but noise from vibration being carried through my skull to my ears. It was so intensely loud I can't even explain. It sounded like the noise was coming from inside my ears. I don't know how long this went on. Ten minutes or so I guess. Why I allowed the dentist to continue is something I will never understand. Immediately after he was done I had extremely loud tinnitus. Within a couple of days I was having throbbing pain in both ears. I went to see my PCP who prescribed a steroid pack. About a week later I saw an ENT where I did a hearing test showing major loss of hearing in the high frequencies. The ENT continued the Prednisone for another week. I now have very noticeable hearing loss. It's like there's a "dead zone" in my hearing. I am having difficulty understanding what people say on the phone, on TV and even in person. Voices sound flat. If there's any background noise whatsoever it makes it even harder to understand. I've noticed many things just don't sound the same. At night the loss is very noticeable. There are environmental sounds from around the house and from outside I either barely hear now or don't hear at all, unimportant sounds that I used to just take for granted and ignore. Now it bothers me that I'm not hearing them. I heard a slow police siren in the distance a couple of nights ago. When the siren reached the highest pitch the sound disappeared completely and then I could hear it again as it was falling. The tinnitus is very loud. I'm having anxiety through the roof, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping. I found a support forum for tinnitus where I learned about "tinnitus distress", of which I have every symptom. So at least I have a name for it, but in that forum they are focused more on tinnitus than on hearing loss. While the tinnitus is driving me crazy I am actually even more upset about losing my hearing. Before this happened I could very clearly. I did not have difficulty understanding people talking. It's just hard to believe and accept I lost so much hearing so quickly because of dental work. This didn't have to happen. I'm more angry at myself than at the dentist because I could have and should have stopped the whole thing. Why I allowed the dentist to continue I will never understand. I have to see a mental health professional because I'm not functioning very well. My life has kind of ground to a halt. All the normal problems I was focused on before have kind of flown out the window. I'm still able to work, but concentrating is very difficult. Sorry for the long post. I just wonder if this has happened to anyone else? The whole thing is unbelievable.

How do you stop noticing the difference in how things sound? I'm very detail oriented, and have obsessive tendencies (obviously). It's just the way I am. I'm known at work for my attention to details. So I keep noticing the difference in the way things sound. At the moment I'm lying in bed and I can hear rain on the roof but it sounds muted, dull. Every time I notice a difference in how something sounds or notice that I'm not hearing something that I should be able to hear it's makes me angry or frustrated or depressed. I'm sure many who read this might say, "You're lucky your can hear the rain at all. What are you whining about?" I understand that. I am fortunate I didn't lose more hearing. Nevertheless, I've had what is, for me, significant unexpected heart loss within a matter of minutes, and it was totally preventable. I told the doctor it feels like there's a dead zone in my hearing. She said, "There is."

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There are different ways we perceive or hear sounds – your audiogram and other hearing tests provides a blueprint of what your brain/auditory nerve picks up and able to understand or not understand in our speech. One way to interpret that is to look at your audiogram as a speech banana like this….
https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-the-speech-banana-on-a-hearing-test-1048455
Our English language has vowels and consonants that can be hard to see across the mouth/tongue when spoken. Lip reading and listening isn't always easy when similar words or letters are spoken – so guessing at what was said becomes the big fall back option. THIS makes the person with hearing issues desperate for answers to what was just spoken. Asking for a rephrasing of what was just said can be distressing or just letting it ride, makes for an incomplete conversation. Pretending that everything was heard can also make you look like a fool since your comments can be inappropriate or your look like someone off your rocker! This is where YOU as a hard of hearing person, must step in and do something about your hearing loss. But, it doesn't just happen over night. First, learning about what KIND of hearing loss your have needs to be known. Is it a high frequency, which is common, and how can you stop if from progressing? Second, what can you do to help yourself to hear well. What type of symptoms or bothersome situations do your find yourself inn? What do you want to be able to do? Write these situations down – ALL OF THEM. These need to be on paper so they aren't floating around in your head. These need to be brought to your audiologist attention. BECAUSE, the hearing aids may be able to address some of these needs. And they will be part of the first step in your management of your hearing loss. Joining a support group of other hearing loss people would assist you as well. Eloise (Hearing Loss Support Specialist and Member of a HLAA Support Group) https://www.hearingloss.org/chapters-state-orgs/

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Eloise, thanks for replying. I found a local HLAA chapter. Unfortunately they don't meet this month. I'll try to connect with them next month. I'm sure a hearing aid is in my near future.

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@julieo4

I've been living with hearing loss since the 60s. Had I not discovered Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH) in 1983 I know I'd be expressing the same things here. SHHH changed its name to The Hearing Loss Association of America in 2005. Its mission has always been to make hearing loss an issue of concern by providing information, educational opportunities, peer support & advocacy. I was a member of the first elected national board of the organization, and ultimately served two terms as president. I have watched the development of technology; the metamorphosis of people with hearing loss, the identification of a population separate from the culturally Deaf population, and a movement to change the stereotypes that hard of hearing people are often pegged with. You know; absent minded, not smart, snobby, anti social, reclusive, no fun, etc. We allow those labels to define us when we hide our hearing loss and stop doing things because of it. There are many excellent hearing assistive technologies that can cut out noise in restaurants and at social gatherings, but the reality is…we do best when we can talk one on one with people. Our disability is invisible. We often choose to keep it that way by not using the assistive technologies because they show. Nearly every ad you see on TV or in print media pushes the 'invisibility ' of hearing aids. They all market denial, and we embrace that concept without realizing it.

Yes, I hid my hearing technologies for years. Way back in the early 90s I discovered a hand held microphone that would plug into the direct audio input of my hearing aid. I didn't even know my aids had that feature. I learned about it from another member of the SHHH board. It was a Phonak device. It changed my life. I even went back to school and earned a masters degree in my 50s because of that device, along with others I learned about afterwards. The funniest experience I had when using it, happened early on. I was in a social group where people were talking about the recent election…Ronald Reagan to date myself. I was participating in the discussion freely because of that microphone. One of the ladies in the group took me aside and said something that I will never forget. "Whatever that is that you're using is amazing. I've known you for years and never thought you were smart." I am sure she wanted to swallow her tongue after saying that, but it gave me the opportunity to explain what it was. And I've been sharing information ever since.

SHHH/HLAA has had such an impact on my life that I decided long ago to give back however I could. I've remained involved. I've helped develop new chapters, I've advocated and I've learned from others. I continue to do a lot of presentations for service organizations, schools and anyone who is interested, even now that I'm retired. I'm in my 70s. Speaking of retirement… I retired from a job I loved when I was in my 30s because of my hearing loss. I went back to a similar job in my 50s because of technology. That hand held microphone worked for years until I decided to get a cochlear implant. That too was a game changer.

I am thankful that devices that work like that old DIA hand held mike did are now wireless. They keep me going socially. It isn't always easy. Some people avoid me because they have difficulty understanding that I miss things. It's their problem, or at least that's how I try to look at it. I can only do what technology allows me to do. I use it all the time. I know I'm smart. I love it when I have the opportunity I tell people what it is. Young people are fascinated by it and often ask for more information…because their parents or grandparents 'really need to know about this'. These same young folks should know about captioned telephones and speech to text options on cell phones. It's all out there, but so few who become hard of hearing even know it's there. What a shame.

As long as I'm writing a dissertation here, I want to say more about HLAA. HLAA needs YOU. It's a membership organization. It advocates for you. If everyone who was concerned about hearing loss joined HLAA, the legislators would open their ears a bit more about hearing aid costs, Medicare not covering them, medical research, etc. If there isn't an HLAA chapter in your area, start one. Go public with your hearing loss and set up a discussion group. Talk about it. It's only invisible because we allow it to be. No doubt it hurts. It leads to depression, and now they are saying it can lead to cognitive decline due to isolation. Stay involved. Do things even if you have to do them differently. Find new hobbies; meet other people with hearing loss who 'get it'. You will not regret it. http://www.hearingloss.org

LOL. After that one, I think I'd like a glass of wine with my Wisconsin cheese!

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Yes this group a lot. ( and Mayo) Space is an issue of having a hearing loss chapter in Philadelphia . The current leaders is In middle of a move and may not resume the group. They started philly chapter 4-5 years ago. I want to continue but I do not have facility for it. Coffee shops in the day time may be possible – no positive feedback on that. I will get advice at the convention in Rochester hopefully . I am on the steering committee of the phila chapter Hard but important

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@chuckm

Eloise, thanks for replying. I found a local HLAA chapter. Unfortunately they don't meet this month. I'll try to connect with them next month. I'm sure a hearing aid is in my near future.

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Good. Then you have time to read up, study, investigate and add to your knowledge base. That way you have the where-with-all to be a contributing member or at least one that will be inquisitive so that your questions will start to be answered. Bravo!

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@bookysue

Yes this group a lot. ( and Mayo) Space is an issue of having a hearing loss chapter in Philadelphia . The current leaders is In middle of a move and may not resume the group. They started philly chapter 4-5 years ago. I want to continue but I do not have facility for it. Coffee shops in the day time may be possible – no positive feedback on that. I will get advice at the convention in Rochester hopefully . I am on the steering committee of the phila chapter Hard but important

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Perfect place to take your concerns to – The convention. There will be people attending that just may be in your area who may be able to help you or at least give you connections. Take advantage of the boards at the registration table to connect to as well as registering for the Chapter leaders meetings. Sign up for sessions that can help with chapter growth and development. There usually are five different tracts to choose from. Almost too much but I am sure you will find just what you need to direct your ways. Don't forget to collect business cards, make friends and have fun!

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I'm sorry you are going through this (and really traumatic as it happened to you). I don't understand how the dental work triggered the event, but I can empathize with your initial reaction as well as your beating yourself up now. I hope you can let that go – it may be that even if you had asked the dentist to stop, you would have had the same result.
I experienced Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) several years ago at about age 50. I woke up a little dizzy and feeling like my ear was a little plugged, but attributed it to allergies. The dizziness became unbearable that morning and long story short, I was referred from minor emergency center directly to an otorhinolaryngologist (ear+ doctor), evaluated & taking steroid & antiviral by that evening. I also had tympanic steroid injections. In the end, they don't know what caused it and I have severe/profound hearing loss in one ear. I now have a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) which helps but isn't great in noisy environments, etc.
Since you are having problems with both ears, but also have some hearing in both(?) I suspect you will not have a BAHA – has your specialist talked to you about hearing aids or possibly cochlear implant? Also I understand there is treatment for disabling tinnitus – so ask your doctor about that. Aural (hearing) rehab is also a "thing," and that may be something that is beneficial for you.
Despite my outcome, anyone who experiences sudden hearing loss should seek immediate evaluation and treatment by a specialist. It is frightening, but from what I've read the chance of a repeat event is rare (~2%). My suggestion would be to share your anxiety and questions with your specialist, and try to figure out if your doctor has expertise in this area or if you want to seek a second opinion. Good luck.

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@devay

I'm sorry you are going through this (and really traumatic as it happened to you). I don't understand how the dental work triggered the event, but I can empathize with your initial reaction as well as your beating yourself up now. I hope you can let that go – it may be that even if you had asked the dentist to stop, you would have had the same result.
I experienced Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) several years ago at about age 50. I woke up a little dizzy and feeling like my ear was a little plugged, but attributed it to allergies. The dizziness became unbearable that morning and long story short, I was referred from minor emergency center directly to an otorhinolaryngologist (ear+ doctor), evaluated & taking steroid & antiviral by that evening. I also had tympanic steroid injections. In the end, they don't know what caused it and I have severe/profound hearing loss in one ear. I now have a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) which helps but isn't great in noisy environments, etc.
Since you are having problems with both ears, but also have some hearing in both(?) I suspect you will not have a BAHA – has your specialist talked to you about hearing aids or possibly cochlear implant? Also I understand there is treatment for disabling tinnitus – so ask your doctor about that. Aural (hearing) rehab is also a "thing," and that may be something that is beneficial for you.
Despite my outcome, anyone who experiences sudden hearing loss should seek immediate evaluation and treatment by a specialist. It is frightening, but from what I've read the chance of a repeat event is rare (~2%). My suggestion would be to share your anxiety and questions with your specialist, and try to figure out if your doctor has expertise in this area or if you want to seek a second opinion. Good luck.

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Thank you for replying. I don't know what's worse, knowing or not knowing what caused the hearing loss. At least yours isn't the result of something stupid. When you wake up is your hearing loss still the first thing you notice? How often do you think about it? I wonder if possibly a tiny blood clot cut off blood supply to you cochlea resulting in cell death? I mean I can't imagine what else could just spontaneously happen to damage your inner ear. Maybe an autoimmune reaction, but seems like that would affect your whole body. I don't know, but I would have a hard time letting that go. I'm scheduled for a follow-up in about a month. I might have that injection. The doctor will decide then. She told me studies about the use of steroid injections are related to idiopathic sudden hearing loss, not hearing loss from acoustic trauma. I'm going to call tomorrow, though, because my ears are still burning constantly.

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@chuckm

Thank you for replying. I don't know what's worse, knowing or not knowing what caused the hearing loss. At least yours isn't the result of something stupid. When you wake up is your hearing loss still the first thing you notice? How often do you think about it? I wonder if possibly a tiny blood clot cut off blood supply to you cochlea resulting in cell death? I mean I can't imagine what else could just spontaneously happen to damage your inner ear. Maybe an autoimmune reaction, but seems like that would affect your whole body. I don't know, but I would have a hard time letting that go. I'm scheduled for a follow-up in about a month. I might have that injection. The doctor will decide then. She told me studies about the use of steroid injections are related to idiopathic sudden hearing loss, not hearing loss from acoustic trauma. I'm going to call tomorrow, though, because my ears are still burning constantly.

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I agree, it is a little worrisome, not knowing what the cause of my SSHL was. But it may have been "stupid" in the sense that autoimmune/stress are related and I let myself get into the position of feeling a lot of work stress at that time. I try to keep balance and "live healthy" – not easy! I had very much a grief reaction at first, and that has gotten better with time. So yes, I thought about it a LOT in the beginning (especially since you are still having severe tinnitus and possibly other symptoms, that may resolve to some degree). It is good you are seeing a counselor to help you get through the acute period. The main impact on my life now is that it is difficult for me to hear in noisy situations. Whereas I can manage this more in my personal life, I have business/ client meetings where I cannot control the environment, and they are fairly frustrating and exhausting. I am lucky that I am in health care and have a great client so there is some understanding/patience. Though of course I would prefer just to be able to enjoy the conversation! But I try to dwell on the positive – which is pretty much my nature. I hope that – with time – you will be able to get to find peace, too.

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@devay

I agree, it is a little worrisome, not knowing what the cause of my SSHL was. But it may have been "stupid" in the sense that autoimmune/stress are related and I let myself get into the position of feeling a lot of work stress at that time. I try to keep balance and "live healthy" – not easy! I had very much a grief reaction at first, and that has gotten better with time. So yes, I thought about it a LOT in the beginning (especially since you are still having severe tinnitus and possibly other symptoms, that may resolve to some degree). It is good you are seeing a counselor to help you get through the acute period. The main impact on my life now is that it is difficult for me to hear in noisy situations. Whereas I can manage this more in my personal life, I have business/ client meetings where I cannot control the environment, and they are fairly frustrating and exhausting. I am lucky that I am in health care and have a great client so there is some understanding/patience. Though of course I would prefer just to be able to enjoy the conversation! But I try to dwell on the positive – which is pretty much my nature. I hope that – with time – you will be able to get to find peace, too.

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"I have business/ client meetings where I cannot control the environment, and they are fairly frustrating and exhausting."

That's how I feel now about my work. I have to interview people all day long, and I very frequently now have to ask people to repeat themselves (sometimes multiple times!) whereas before I could just focus on what information I needed, data entry, and the decisions I had to make. As you said, it's incredibly frustrating and exhausting in a way I can't explain. It's like it takes more mental "energy" to focus on understanding what I'm hearing.

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I used to listen to NPR while driving to work every morning and then on the way home in the evening. Now I wear earplugs while driving because the road noise bothers me. Even at home I hardly listen to NPR anymore. I've kind of lost interest in the news. I'm actively avoiding music because I know it's going to sound terrible. I don't want to deal with that disappointment right now. At night I used to fall asleep listening to YouTube ASMR whisper videos. You think I can hear a whisper now? The tinnitus is too loud. So that pleasure and relaxation aid is gone. Part of me feels like destroying something.

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@chuckm I have tinnitus and audiologist suggest Lipovlavonod it does cut down the tinnitus It OTC I've had tinnitus along time and this helps me

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