A far too common story of loss of hearing after an ear infection

The loss of hearing after an ear infection is not the story we typically hear.

The story that others most often talk about usually begins with the stereotypical older adult who experiences the natural progression of life. It could also be the story of a musician who suffered the consequences of listening to loud music for an extended period.

All of these point to familiar narratives we hear or read about hearing loss. But no one tells the story of an ordinary sickness, like a cold or flu, taking away the essential functions of our body.

My story of loss of hearing after an ear infection

While my memory doesn’t take me back so far,  the story is that I must have been three or four years old. At the time, I began to lose my hearing. There are many speculations about whether I was born with hearing loss by others outside my family.

There were the possibilities of drugs or other illnesses, which were the main culprits for my hearing loss. Although my parents can’t tell if the mandatory hearing test was done in the late 70s and early 80s, they firmly believe my hearing loss happened way after I was born. 

My parents observed a drastic change in my speech. As a baby, I began to speak a few words, but that all quickly changed. As a baby, I was comfortable saying words like mother or mom, like most kids say as they learn to talk. After the illness, my pronunciation of the words changed. I was mimicking what I could partially hear at the time.

My parents didn’t have much clue or direction about what was happening. A trip to the doctor would usually end with the diagnosis that my behaviour was the result of my attention-seeking as I was the youngest child. To know me, this is laughable because I am the type of person who doesn’t do well with attention at all. 

The problem was picked up again at daycare. My parents worked at the local university, and I didn’t have a stay-at-home parent like many people in the neighbourhood where I grew up. I had a nanny and attended daycare as I approached the time to go to school. This was probably the saving grace to receive a diagnosis quickly rather than years later, as some kids experience.

Luckily, having others to care for me meant that my parents did not settle for the casual diagnosis the doctor provided. The staff at daycare noticed something, too and told my parents that I should probably have my hearing checked. 

My earliest memory of my life has flashes of images of painful ear infections. I recall one in first grade when I had to skip school in the morning to go to the hospital. It might have been my first time being absent from school. Skipping classes was a habit my parents did not want to adopt.

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The only times I didn’t make it to class during elementary school were when I had chicken pox or a nosebleed that started at school and wouldn’t stop after hours. The teachers would call my parents to come and take me home.

Those ear infections during my childhood were so painful. I couldn’t sleep throughout the night. I woke my parents up for help, and nothing they could do would work. I was feeling reckless. The pain won’t go away. 

I recognized that same pain later in my life. I was in Hawaii, and my older sister wanted to try scuba diving with me. Scuba diving was perfect for me because no one can hear underwater. Conveniently, sign language, or more accurately, odd hand gestures, was our only form of communication. I had no fear of diving and signing up for my first lessons.

However, when you are going deep into the ocean, there’s a point when you are underwater, and you need to adjust to the pressure. You’re instructed to pinch your nose underwater to help relieve the pain. I waited for the instructor to signal when it was okay to start pinching out my nose. I may have needed to pinch my nose earlier because the experience of the ear pressure was all too familiar.

Finding the root cause

After my diagnosis, my parents began to explore the cause of my hearing loss. I come from a family with no hereditary genes for deafness. I was the only one who experienced hearing loss among my large extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles. My father, a pharmacist, went on to investigate by reading medical literature. He identified an over-the-counter eardrop drug as a possible cause. The drug that I had been using at the time had now become a prescription drug after many families sued the pharmaceutical industry after their children lost their hearing. The drug now is a prescription to be closely monitored. The drug is not advised to be taken repeatedly, even when a child has multiple ear infections simultaneously. Otherwise, the child will get the side effects of hearing loss. 

There were other speculations related to undiagnosed illnesses. I occasionally had mysterious illnesses with no name or diagnosis, which would appear and go away. It made things look like they happened in a dream. My sister recalls when I had raised large bumps all over my body. I didn’t get any measles or chickenpox. There was no diagnosis other than instructions from the doctors to clean the bed sheets a bit more, as my parents would later recall. These experiences could have played a part in the hearing loss. 

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How does an ear infection cause hearing loss?

Either way, losing your hearing after an ear infection is one common way to become deaf and hard of hearing. 

Ear infections typically affect the middle ear. This means any hearing loss caused by an ear infection can be temporary. The key to prevention is timing. Taking more than a day will increase the chances of permanent hearing loss. The infection can be cleared by taking antibiotics. 

When it gets to the point of permanent hearing loss, the nerve, eardrum or bones are damaged. Often, one would get a series of colds or viruses, and their middle ear never has a chance to heal. 

Hearing loss can happen in various ways. For some, it might sound like water in their ears. For others, like me, the whole world is silent. 

I can’t hear my voice when I talk unaided. I wasn’t aware of it for the longest time because I was speaking and knew what I was saying unconsciously. Also, I feel the vibration of my voice on my upper chest, giving me the illusion I can hear my voice. I don’t know if my hearing loss was mild when I started preschool. I can sense there was a decline when I compared the hearing test results over time. 

If you are starting to lose your hearing, don’t delay. You might be able to save your ears from permanent damage.

Life with hearing loss

Hearing loss has allowed me to touch 430 million people with diagnosed hearing loss. As a founder of Lisnen, I started my business to solve a problem with my own experience with hearing loss. A path that wouldn’t have been possible or very unlikely with the environments I have encountered and the world I experienced every day.

Even if you are heading on the same path as I am,  know that you will be okay. There will be more difficulties than you are used to, but other things you take for granted get easier. Things balance themselves out. That’s another article to share with you.

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