Thursday, November 12, 2009


On the Tuesday morning after President's Day of this year, I woke up with the feeling that my right ear was badly clogged up. I'd had problems before with earwax, so I put some drops in, but I was still so uncomfortable that I called my doctor and went in that morning. There were a bunch of people waiting, and I felt a little foolish about rushing to the doctor over something like this, so I ended up making an appointment for Thursday and left.

Wednesday evening I was standing at the stove cooking when I felt a wave of dizziness and next thing I knew, I was on the floor. What? But the dizziness passed, and I felt okay, really.

On Thursday morning when I went in for my appointment, the doctor cleaned out my ears, but I didn't feel any better. He suggested that it might be allergies (allergies? in February?) and gave me a sample pack of an antihistamine. I had a rehearsal that night, and didn't have any trouble, so I started thinking maybe the antihistamine was helping.

But on Friday, I felt worse as the day progressed. By the evening, I was almost panicking because I felt like I was going to fall. I even called my husband during my walk from the subway to my car, but he was 20 miles away, and what could he do, anyway? So I soldiered on and walked very slowly, making sure there was a street sign or lamppost or something to grab.

By Saturday afternoon, I was feeling so dizzy and sick that I couldn't eat and could barely get out of bed. On Sunday, my husband called the doctor again, who called in a prescription for dramamine. We also posted a note on the neighborhood listserv asking for ENT recommendations, and by Sunday afternoon had made contact with an ear specialist who told me to come in first thing Monday morning.

By then, I'd lost almost all the hearing in my right ear.

The diagnosis was sudden sensorineural hearing loss: basically, sudden hearing loss that can't be explained by obvious outward factors. The supposition is that it's caused by an infection of the inner ear, but because the inner ear can't be examined, that's only a supposition. The only medically sanctioned treatment for it is a high dose of prednisone, taken in pill form. A somewhat more experimental treatment is injection of a steroid solution through the ear drum into the inner ear. So I did both. I started taking the oral meds that Monday morning, and went for the injection on Tuesday. A week later, I had a second injection.

I slowly started to feel better, though for about a month, music sounded like it was coming through on one of those tinny little transistor radios. The piano sounded horrible, but I still wanted to play, so I closed the instrument  up completely and swaddled it with quilts, plus I put an earplug into the bad ear. This made it barely tolerable. I canceled all my cello gigs, though I got together with my small folk group a few times during this period (putting in earplugs before we started playing).

At the beginning of this thing, I tried to prepare for the worst (i.e., that this would never heal), so I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that after about six weeks, my hearing was back to normal. Some people do not recover. Others recover without treatment. Perhaps what helped me was getting treatment within a few days. So anyone reading this, take note: If something like this ever happens to you, go straight to an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist).* If that's not available, at least mention to whatever doctor you do see the possibility that this could be what ails you. But in any case, do get medical attention for it as soon as possible.

*Corrected per Mark's comment below.


Mark Cannon said...

Hello -- I came here after I got curious about your blog from a post of yours on Piano Forums. Quite a story .....I read every word with great interest because I've shared some of the symptoms at times, also because it's "a very interesting case" (pardon the clinical-ness of that) plus because the way you tell it, one really CARES. Also I'm a doctor (psychiatrist). (BTW.....looks like you accidentally said the wrong kind of doctor near the end there -- but no matter, we know what you mean.)
Above all -- very glad it had a good outcome! And glad that you referenced your blog on the post.
-- Mark Cannon

Harriet said...

Ooops -- I should have said otolaryngologist. Sorry about that. I'll correct it in the post.


Bill said...

I'm so glad this had a happy outcome. I woke up 4 years ago with tinnitus in both ears and it has been a struggle dealing with it. Like most folks who have tinnitus I have found ways to cope - mostly by trying to not think about it.

I am really enjoying your blog. I find it very interesting to read the musings of a "real" musician.