Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Hear and Now

Street scene in Mysore, India
A couple summers back, I began to notice that more people were mumbling and that conversations were fading into the din of background noise. While I knew the world was becoming noisier and enunciation wasn’t as popular as it used to be, I could scarcely believe how fast the world was changing. Thankfully, years of teaching and practicing yoga had helped me learn to read body language pretty well, and I also seemed to have a knack for reading lips. On the continuum of problems, slight hearing loss didn’t seem too pressing, and I embarked on various regiments of self-healing.

I’ve long believed that food is medicine, and I began to mess around with my diet. Historically I’ve gotten pretty plugged up when I ate dairy foods and gluten, so I assiduously parsed these from my diet. This change in diet seemed to help a bit, though I still relied heavily on context and body language to figure out what was being said.

I then began looking at other foods as possible inflammation triggers and embarked on a strict elimination diet. I believed inflammation was the root cause of my hearing loss, and believed that eliminating these trigger foods would help my hearing.

I found a number of foods that seemed to plug me up, and by further eliminating carrageenan and tapioca starch from my diet, I found my hearing did improve a bit.

The improvement was incremental, though, and I was still was faking it in a lot of conversations, and nodding politely far more than was indicated.

I then turned my attention to acupuncture. I work with a great acupuncturist, and she immediately identified some blockages and imbalances that could have contributed to my hearing deficit. Many months into an ongoing course of acupuncture treatments, I was feeling more energetic and filled with vitality. But, while I felt like I had reverse-aged about fifteen years, I was still conversing largely through body language, piecing syllables together, and reading lips. I wasn’t fully out of the loop in social interactions but many details were getting lost in the shuffle.

The changes in diet and acupuncture made incremental improvements but almost one year had gone by since I’d heard birds singing or even the sound of many passing cars. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, and I was pretty resistant to accepting the extent of my hearing loss.

By this time, despite my penchant for optimism, the reality was that my hearing was getting worse. In addition to diet and acupuncture, I received some great bodywork, and continued to practice yoga and meditation each day. While I was feeling very good, more people were mumbling and I was starting to pull back socially. I have always been pretty outgoing but now I was finding the effort to piece together conversations was sometimes too much. The latter was the convincer that finally motivated a visit to my general practitioner. The GP immediately referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist; the red, puffy scene inside my ears wasn’t the result of a typical ear infection or injured eardrum – something else was amiss.

The first step in seeing the ENT was a comprehensive hearing exam. There were so many tests! There were tests with headphones, transmitters on my mastoid bones, tests that injected air against my eardrums, and a battery of speech recognition exercises. After all sorts of poking and prodding, the conclusion was that I had moderate to severe hearing loss. Thankfully, I hear almost normally in a small band of frequencies around 1,000 Hertz, which allowed me to somewhat hold my own in conversations. Outside of that bandwidth of frequencies, my hearing loss was severe, which explained why people with unusually high or low voices were the hardest for me to understand.

While this report certainly fell under the subheading of bad news, the ENT quickly pointed out that this sort of hearing loss, called conductive, is highly treatable. At worst there’s a surgical repair, and at minimum, a course of nasal steroids may be able to knock back the inflammation that’s keeping my eardrums from moving normally. While the full treatment is probably somewhere between the two extremes of nasal spray or surgery, the otolaryngologist assured me I will ultimately be able to hear normally, once again.

After two weeks of nasal steroids, I continue having eureka moment where I hear sounds I haven’t heard in awhile. The upstairs neighbor’s footfalls, passing cars and insistent crows have never sounded so good! I’m also still aware of how much I’m missing, and am trying to remain aware of how my optimism, which often contributes to my happiness, can also be a deceiver.

For example, while at a writing workshop this afternoon, I could hear other participants laughing at someone’s story, though I could not hear the story that was the cause of their laughter. There’s a long way to go in restoring my hearing, though I’m glad to live in a time and place where I have ready access to both complementary and Western medicine.

I’m committed to fully restoring my hearing, as listening is a key component of teaching. As this situation unfolds, I’ll be posting periodic updates.

Thanks for listening!


Amelia Jones said...

It's good to know that you're doing great. Natural solutions bring positive benefits and what really matters is to explore the options that can work well to support your needs.

Scott Anderson said...

It's been a few months since I wrote this blog entry, and while I'm still having a hard time with my hearing, there are a few answers.

After the first visit with the ENT doctor, I was prescribed nasal steroids to combat the inflammation that was presumed to be present in my nasal cavity. After three months of this treatment, my hearing was re-tested. And there was virtually no change in my hearing!

This led the ENT to suggest getting tubes (grommets) installed in my ears. This is the same technology that's often used with little kids, and they deliver the promise of fully restoring hearing that's related to chronic congestion. I was up for anything - getting my hearing back was sounding better and better.

Once I was placed on the treatment table and a microscope was focused on my eardrums, the ENT thought better of it. It turned out there was a lot of scarring on both eardrums, and it wasn't reasonable to assume my hearing loss was related to a chronic congestion that the nasal steroids had failed to address. Something else was likely amiss.

I ended up getting a CT scan, which verified that there was little, if any, congestion... and that my eardrums have significant scarring. In a couple weeks I see another ENT who specializes in eardrums, and I hope to learn what options are available.

In the interim, I'm using hearing aids to facilitate the day-to-day. I never would have imagined loving hearing aids, but I sure do enjoy being more connected to the world, again.