Throughout the years, I’ve shared more than a few stories of pushing through injuries or putting them on the back burner until they couldn’t be ignored any longer. I guess I can file this post under the same category as I’m finally addressing a health issue I was diagnosed with back 16 months ago. Today marks day number six that I’m wearing a hearing aid.
Rewind to the summer of 2018, and that’s when I woke up one morning with what felt like a huge ball of cotton in my right ear. After a day of straining to hear out of the ear and several unsuccessful attempts at “popping” it like I would during a flight or an elevator ride in a tall building, I assumed I had a wax buildup and made an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist. To my surprise, the doctor found no wax and sent me down the hall to his audiologist for a hearing test. My next surprise was learning I had significant conductive hearing loss in my right ear. A few days later, a CT scan confirmed what the doctor already suspected to be the cause: a rare condition called otosclerosis.
WebMD offers the simplest definition of this condition that affects a little more than three million Americans:
“Otosclerosis is a condition that causes hearing loss. It happens when a small bone in your middle ear — usually the one called the stapes — gets stuck in place. Your stapes bone has to vibrate for you to hear well. When it can’t do that, sound can’t travel from your middle ear to your inner ear. That makes it hard for you to hear.”
In addition the main symptom of hearing loss, I also experience tinnitus – which alternates between roaring and ringing sounds in my right ear. (Click here to learn even more about otosclerosis.) With a definitive diagnosis, I had to figure out what to do. In full disclosure, I initially found myself a bit depressed and more than a little scared about being diagnosed with significant hearing loss at the age of 44. So, I did what many of us do when faced with unpleasant surprises: absolutely nothing.
Fast forward to December of 2019, and I’d had about enough of straining to follow conversations in crowded places (which is practically everywhere when you live in New York City!) and asking people to repeat themselves. During a very informative consultation with another ENT -where another hearing test indicated my hearing loss had deteriorated since my initial diagnosis- I learned I had two options:
- Stapedectomy: a surgical procedure where an ENT removes the non-working stapes bone and replaces it with a micro prosthesis or
- Try a hearing aid.
I decided I had nothing to lose with giving the hearing aid a shot. Now my only regret is not having tried one sooner. The very first day I wore it, I attended a Church dinner for a volunteer group I joined last year. Halfway through the evening, I nearly started crying when I realized I was having a conversation with two women sitting to my right and I could hear them despite the din of the crowd and music playing in the background. Since then, I’ve had easier conversations with friends in a crowded wine bar; watched TV at a lower volume and even heard whispers in movies without much difficulty.
I am sharing this particular story in the hopes of preventing others from suffering in silence. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms I described, talk to your primary care physician or see an ENT. Getting a hearing aid can be a an overwhelming experience, and I realize I was fortunate on many fronts. My journalism background definitely helped on the information-gathering process, but I also had the guidance of a dear family friend who happens to be a retired ENT; advice from a childhood friend who has worn hearing aids for many years and I also found a very patient and compassionate audiologist. Now I have a 60-day trial period with my hearing aid and can make adjustments if needed. I’d like to think this will do the trick and that I won’t need surgery down the road. For now, it’s one day at a time.
If you have any other questions about my hearing loss journey, please don’t hesitate to ask. While I never expected to be wearing a hearing aid 20 days shy of my 46th birthday, I’m optimistic it will continue to have a positive impact on my quality of life. As I approach the start of a new year on this planet, I look forward to seeing and hearing more of what this crazy life has to offer. So, when life throws you a curve ball, don’t be afraid of getting the facts you need to take control of the situation and get back on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!