Please talk into my other ear
December 5, 2009 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem with sudden deafness in one ear and am trying to figure out what to do.

I am 51, female, in good health generally. Had flu last month, a cold this month, thought I was recovered. Slight faint tinnitus for a couple of years. In the last week my left ear tinnitus worsened and then the entire ear sort of shut down. I can only hear a whine and fuzz sound in it now, can hardly hear anything else and can't easily hold conversations. (My left ear has always been slightly stronger and is the one with which I'd talk on the phone, for example.) No other health issues are troubling me.

I saw a clinic doctor who looked in my ear and saw no blockage, found I had slightly swollen lymph glands and the smallest detectable amount of fever, and Rx'd me five days' zithromax to take care of any infection. I finished the zithromax yesterday but the ear is still down.

Anyone have any suggestions what this could be or what to do next?
posted by zadcat to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
have you ruled out an inner ear infection? Buildup of pus and whatnot in there might reduce hearing - when I had one a few years ago, I couldn't hear anything well out of that ear until it drained naturally.

One of the tests they used was to put a vibrating tuning fork on the top center of my head - the vibrations were louder on the side with the infection since fluid conducts sound faster than air. You might try a home version of the test using something in your house that vibrates... cell phone, electric tooth brush, other... uh... vibrate-y things...

Even if you've already gone through the antibiotics course and the infection is gone, it can still take a long time (weeks, months, in my experience) for the fluid to escape. Good luck.
posted by logicpunk at 3:59 PM on December 5, 2009

Zithromax keeps working for a few (5 I think) days after you take the last pill, because of the way it builds up in your soft tissues (don't quote me, but that's the general idea). So you still might get some improvement, but your hearing is important so I'd go ahead and get a referral to an Ear Nose Throat doctor. If you call the clinic doctor, she might know one you can see. Not sure what the process is where you are.

I've had the whine/fuzz with childhood ear infections after puncturing my eardrum. If it's that, it will get better, and drive you crazy until it does.
posted by kathrineg at 4:02 PM on December 5, 2009

I hesitate to suggest this, because I think it's probably a really unlikely explanation that just happens to be the ear disease that I know about because I have it. But autoimmune inner ear disease can cause sudden deafness in one ear. My doctor told me that it seems to sometimes be triggered by an infection of some sort, so it could be that your flu or cold triggered it.
posted by craichead at 4:06 PM on December 5, 2009

Go to an ENT.
posted by radioamy at 4:15 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ménière's disease? It sounds like the symptoms my grandmother complained of when she had it.
posted by jeather at 4:55 PM on December 5, 2009

Seconding go to an ENT ASAP. (Based on experience of a family member who had a similar thing happen to her & didn't get to an ENT until months later when it was too late . . . )
posted by flug at 4:56 PM on December 5, 2009

Also when you call the ENT office emphasize that you have had a sudden hearing loss and need to get it checked out SOON--not in 3-4 weeks. Keep calling different ENT offices until you can get an appointment soon, like in the next couple of days anyway.
posted by flug at 4:58 PM on December 5, 2009

Make an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist on Monday. They will at least be able to diagnose the problem more specifically, and hopefully they will have some solution. ENT specialists are busy so It might take a few weeks to get an appointment. If your ear is better by then you can always cancel it.

Frankly, I'm pretty surprised you weren't referred to an ENT in the first place.
posted by grouse at 5:00 PM on December 5, 2009

Or what flug said: if you can get an appointment earlier, obviously that is better.
posted by grouse at 5:00 PM on December 5, 2009

Ménière's disease? It sounds like the symptoms my grandmother complained of when she had it.

Naw. The hearing loss from Meniere's is generally progressive, not sudden, and there is accompanying severe vertigo and dizziness.
posted by Justinian at 5:08 PM on December 5, 2009

It doesn't sound like my experience with Meniere's (which was diagnosed after a couple bouts of vertigo). My hearing loss has been very gradual.
posted by eleslie at 5:11 PM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks folks. I am in Canada, so on the one hand I don't worry about paying doctors, but on the other I'll have to go back to the clinic and ask for a referral to an ENT. I can't do that till Monday anyway, so if it's not resolved by then I will do that.

I don't think it's Menière's, whatever else it is. Luckily I have had no issues whatsoever with dizziness.
posted by zadcat at 5:14 PM on December 5, 2009

If it makes you feel better, I popped my eardrums 3 + times as a child and I have no significant hearing loss. It hurt when it happened, though.

If you don't know of an ENT to go to, check nearby hospitals. They often have specialty clinics where you can walk in.
posted by kathrineg at 5:24 PM on December 5, 2009

Oh and in the meantime, just in case you do have a perforated ear drum, keep it dry and don't put anything in your ear.
posted by kathrineg at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2009

Absolutely get it checked out as fast as is possible, but my husband had virtually these identical symptoms a couple of years ago and it turned out to just be a giant piece of earwax that had fallen onto his eardrum. I hope it's something so simple for you!
posted by KathrynT at 7:47 PM on December 5, 2009

If you are on an other medications, were there any changes in your regimen prior to the incident?
posted by TravellingDen at 8:47 PM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: I am not on any meds.

The clinic doctor looked into my ear with the scope and saw no physical object which would account for the outage.

You can't just ask to see a specialist these days - you need a referral. So I do have to go back to the original doctor or something like that before getting to see an ENT.
posted by zadcat at 9:09 PM on December 5, 2009

You should absolutely get to an ent asap. Not to freak you out, but among the things that it's important to rule out in one-sided hearing loss is an acoustic neuroma. If someone came to see me with undiagnosed recent onset one-sided hearing loss, I wouldn't treat them until they'd got a diagnosis.
posted by jennyjenny at 5:37 AM on December 6, 2009

I had sudden hearing loss in one ear. I woke up in the middle of the night and could not hear anything from one ear. I went to the ER, got to see an ENT, was started on steroids (for ~45 days) straight away and over about 6 months managed to regain some hearing in that ear. They haven't figured out what caused it, but have classified it as autoimmune (I have had a few other inflammation episodes, unrelated to ears). Anyway, I would definitely try to get some steroids asap. All the docs I saw said had I not started those so soon after I probably wouldn't have gained much hearing back.
posted by sulaine at 8:56 AM on December 6, 2009

My brother had this and unfortunately his hearing has not returned (I think it has been about 18 months since it happened), and he has persistent tinnitus (in his case, what he describes as a "whooshing" sound). He had tests that ruled out all the major causes and I think they never did figure out what the cause was. He had had a major cold and experienced diminished hearing but it did not clear up when the cold did. He didn't see a doctor right away because he figured it would clear up on its own eventually.

He even flew to go see a specialist in Los Angeles, and they injected steroids into his eardrum but it did not help. The injections were incredibly painful and he had to lie down for like 30 minutes afterwards because it induced terrible vertigo. He had several (maybe 4?) of the injections over a period of weeks.

Good luck, I hope you have a better outcome.
posted by marble at 9:42 AM on December 6, 2009

Happened to the Mrs. Her ENT called it Conductive Hearing Loss (as opposed to neural damage) and says it's caused by the three bones between the middle & inner ear not working together perfectly. A friend who has it (among a million other Americans) called it "arthiritis fo the ear," whcih is n't perfectly accurate but gives the geenral idea of grating bones.

The ENT said that, since it's *not* nerve damages, there's a surgery "once it gets really bad" which can help. We're heading up to Boston next week for a second opinion.

She's got the constant-white-noise "whoosh" now. It seems to me to be a real drag, and my wife is being a trooper about it.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2009

Response by poster: I've been autoreminded to put some kind of followup here.

I saw an ENT doc after my posting and he prescribed prednisone and an antiviral. I took all of them and they didn't do much. I still cannot hear with my left ear.

I had an audiogramme today (hearing test, not sure if there's a proper word in English) and the technician said there's no sign my eardrum or other ear bits have seized up, so there's reason to hope the condition will resolve, but I just have to wait. I see the ENT again next week but the tech seemed to think there wasn't anything I could do meantime to speed things up.

Thanks all for your responses, should anyone come back here to check.
posted by zadcat at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2010

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