Not quite as dramatic as the case study neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about in “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” but a recent incident of hearing loss in China is still striking. The tale is a good way to mark May being Better Hearing and Speech Month — sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association — and this year’s theme of “Communication Across the Lifespan.”
After experiencing ear ringing and then vomiting the night before, a woman woke up the next morning and could no longer hear the voice of her boyfriend — or any other men.
Her doctor at the hospital was a woman who the patient could hear just fine, who eventually diagnosed her with reverse-slope hearing loss (RSHL), a rare condition that disables the ability to hear low-frequency sounds. The name comes from the fact that the graphic representation of the hearing loss is the reverse of the norm, which slopes in the high frequencies. For every person with RSHL, over 10,000 have more “normal” high frequency hearing loss.
Usually, the hairs in the inner ear that degrade first are the ones that capture sound in the higher range. They are basically more delicate. Also, the part of the cochlea that processes sounds lower in the hearing range is located in such a way that it is rarely injured.
But in rare cases, trauma, blood circulation issues, or autoimmune disorders can bring on RSHL. In fact, autoimmune issues in the ear can also bring on bouts of dizziness and vomiting, which the Chinese patient featured in a Newsweek story about the case reported to her doctor.
Ultimately, the Chinese doctor stated that lack of sleep and stress were the underlying causes of her patient’s hearing loss. But getting treatment immediately was crucial, as it is in all cases of sudden hearing loss.