Blocked ears

Copyright: yayayoy / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: yayayoy / 123RF Stock Photo

I’ve had the flu.  Not a very bad dose, but enough to put me in bed for a couple of days and enough to block up my ears and cut off my hearing completely.  I’ve had blocked ears before after a head cold or a virus but they’ve always “popped” again after a few days.  This time they’ve still not “popped” nearly three weeks later and, to begin with, the loss of hearing was almost total, even with my powerful hearing aids. I originally lost a lot of hearing following a bout of flu in my twenties so it’s been hard not to fret that it might all be happening again.

Things are slightly better now but not enough for normal functioning.  Here’s what happened.

Saturday morning 7 January – felt fine.  Saturday afternoon – terrible, ached all over, felt nauseous, went to bed.  Sunday and Monday – in bed but hearing fine.  Tuesday – felt well enough to get up but ears blocked.  Wednesday – ears horribly blocked.  Nigel’s mouth moves but NO sound gets through unless he is about a couple of feet away from my ears.  I’ve never known this happen before.  Thursday – no better.  I phone the doctor (thank goodness for Next Generation Text) who says give it a few days.

Monday of the second week I e-mail Audiology.  I’m forever impressed that my local audiology department is so responsive.  The receptionist spoke to the manager and got back to me on the Tuesday – you need to get your GP to refer you to the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

Wednesday, I phone the doctor again.  Our Medical Centre introduced a new system for making appointments last year.  Instead of the receptionists making appointments they take a quick note of the problem and arrange for a doctor to call you back.  The doctor either gives advice over the phone or makes an appointment if he/she agrees that you need one; it is a vastly better system for prioritising need in an overstretched NHS.  Of course you have to use the phone, which is an issue, but with Next Generation Text it works fine.  (I’d feel different about it if I was having to describe embarrassing symptoms with an NGTS operator listening in but I’m very happy to talk about deafness).

So a doctor rings me back (on NGTS) and I explain the problem, including the worries about my original flu-related hearing loss.  She gives the perfect answer.  Essentially she said, “try not to worry about it too much, it’s very unlikely that what you are describing will cause further damage, but I understand just how important your hearing must be to you, so would you like an appointment later this afternoon”.  PERFECT.  Reassurance, understanding and action.  “Yes, please”, I said.  Then she said “do you need any hearing support at the appointment?”  HURRAH.  Perhaps the Accessible Information Standard is making a difference after all; I was beginning to doubt it.  I didn’t (need any support) because I don’t sign and my lip reading is pretty good, but it was the right thing to ask someone communicating by text relay.

Later on, I drive to the doctor’s appointment.  This was the first time I’d been in a car for ten days and I was shocked to realise I couldn’t hear the engine.  It was surreal actually.  I pressed the accelerator, took the brake off and the car moved – but I couldn’t hear a thing.

The GP asked questions.  Then he twanged a tuning fork and held it against various parts of my skull, asking me to tell him in which position I could hear most clearly.  I couldn’t hear anything at all in any position.  “Right”, he said, “I’m going to speak to a specialist”.  I thought he meant that he would contact someone the next day (it was already about 5.30pm) but he did it right there and then.  He rang an on-call Ear Nose and Throat doctor at Bradford Royal Infirmary ENT and told him/her – well, who knows what he said because I couldn’t hear.  But the result was that the specialist was again very reassuring that the problem was unlikely to cause any long term damage but they would arrange an appointment to see me.

The day after that things unblocked slightly.  I could hear the car.  I could have a conversation with one other person; not with ease but I could do it.  My ears were still blocked but not so badly.  They are still like that now.

A week later I spent a couple of hours at the ENT department.  I will spare you the details; the upshot was that tests proved that I have liquid behind both eardrums, which will just have to drain naturally.  They estimate maybe another two weeks, perhaps longer.  They continue to reassure that eventually it will get better with no permanent damage.  I’ve got a follow up appointment.

So that’s where I am now, nearly three weeks after the blockage first started.

The whole episode has set me thinking about a few things.

I will never again say “my ears are completely blocked” unless they are.  Now I’ve experienced it I know what it means.  “My hearing is slightly muffled” would have been a more accurate description of episodes I’ve had in the past.

I pondered again how incredibly lucky I have been that my hearing loss has been gradual.  My coping mechanisms have been built up incrementally over the forty years my hearing has been slowly getting worse.  With this blockage the effect was sudden.  One day – I felt lousy, ached, lay in bed but could hear like I always do.  The next day – the world went silent.  And of course, that is the experience of hearing loss that many people suffer.  Overnight, they go deaf.  Frankly, I don’t know how they (you?) handle it.   Of course, people with sudden hearing loss DO cope – what choice is there – but it must be infinitely harder.

Finally, I thought a lot about partners of deaf people.  It is just as hard for them.  Added to his normal skills (endless patient repeating, never shouting and never getting cross) Nigel has had to add reassuring a fed up and worried wife and spending a lot of time in silence (because it is really hard work to chat at the moment).

I’ll let you know what happens next.  I’ve cancelled all my activities involving people in groups for the next few weeks (archaeology meetings, classes I was attending, a class I was about to teach).  This is dispiriting, because I enjoy them such a lot, but I am following my own advice about survival strategies for bad hearing times.  I’m doing things that don’t involve my ears – cooking, reading, dusting off a project about the history of the house that I researched years ago but have never written up.  I’m taking the dog for walks.  I’m watching subtitled television and DVDs.  I’m waiting, basically, and trying to be patient.

A funny thing is that sometimes I have worried that this blog doesn’t talk enough about the difficult things.  I had a post in draft called “is this blog too Pollyanna?”  Well, put that in the shredder huh?


19 thoughts on “Blocked ears

  1. Hi Vera,

    Just like all the others I hope your ‘normal’ hearing level is returning.
    I mostly read such distressing stuff about the state of the NHS, so it’s good to hear that the services in your area for ENT patients are well-functioning. Glad to hear you have these other projects ‘in the wings’ to spend time on. I’m sure your dog appreciates the extra walks!

    Take care,


    1. Thanks Di.
      Yep, I was pleasantly surprised with the NHS response too. I know my local GP service and audiology are excellent but the hospital referral was a new experience. The hospital building urgently needs a complete renovation job, but the service inside it was fine.
      Things on the hearing front are getting a little better and I have the follow up appointment on Saturday, so it will be interesting what tests show then.
      Good to hear from you.

  2. I am so sorry to hear you have not been well recently. Being ill is bad enough without it affecting our hearing, I do hope you are on the mend now. I have had this awful virus going round since the beginning of January and it also affected my hearing although not as bad as yours. Despite the fact I have a pain in my ear and left side of my throat my GP says there is nothing wrong, who am I to argue? I would also like an ENT referral for ongoing sinus problems but was told I would have to wait until I am better!

  3. Oh Vera -I wondered why you’d been off air for so long. I look forward to your weekly blogs – Pollyanna and all – and have missed them.

    I know exactly how distressing it can be to suddenly use what little hearing you have. When I was organising a surprise ‘big’ birthday party for Keith, mine went. I woke up & turned over see to Keith talking on the phone. I hadn’t heard it ring and couldn’t hear him talking. (It was my brother trying to liaise secret details & he was sensible enough to bluff his way through.) I burst out crying with the shock of being, suddenly, totally deaf. It’s awful.

    Happily the hearing did come back eventually though I find the only way I can hear Keith without my HAs is if he puts his lips on my good ear and speaks – gives whispering sweet nothings in my ear a whole new meaning!

    So pleased you are on the mend & fingers crossed it won’t be long before you are back to normal with all your activities. Elmo is sorry to hear you’ve been ruff (sorry) & we both send best wishes for a speedy recovery.

    1. Thank you Deb. I’m sure I’ll be feeling grrrrrreat again soon (sorry Elmo). Seriously, it has been hugely cheering to hear from people who’ve had similar problems in the past. You KNOW it’s unlikely to be a permanent loss, but you still worry about it. I’m resilient, but not THAT resilient. Not every day, anyway.

  4. Thank you Vera for sharing a difficult situation. While it is good to hear about the positive (and sometimes amusing) stories about being deaf, it is also supportive – and comforting – to hear about the struggles. You are not alone! Jennifer B

  5. Hi Vera

    I’m glad that your ears are getting back to “normal” and hope that you are soon fully recovered. It’s weird the way that a heavy head cold or flu has such an impact on hearing.

    Though I’m not as deaf as you I always find my hearing gets worse with a cold, even with my hearing aids in.


  6. So frightening for you Vera – but I’m glad you are on the road to recovery now. I am one who lost all my hearing overnight when I was 34 – 25 years ago. (Meningitis) Got a little back so now I can communicate with aids etc – for which I am VERY greatful. 🙂 This weekend my son was able to simulate my hearing loss using a computer programme for the rest of the family to hear what my hearing loss sounds like to me. Every home should have one! Although they are all very patient at repeating things and never get exasperated with me, I think it was an education for them!!! Take care Pollyanna x

    1. Hello Joy. I’m very interested in the computer programme your son used…..I’ll definitely look out for that one on the internet. Many thanks for your good wishes, which are most appreciated.

    2. Hello Joy
      I too am interested in the computer programme your son found. Can you post details if possible – I’m sure many of us would like others to experience, temporarily, what we all endure (mostly with a positive bearing) day in, day out.

  7. Keep hanging in there, Vera. Despite your prior knowledge, it must still have been a frightening experience.
    So many friends have recently had the dreaded flu for three weeks or so. It’s amazing how many of them have said “I now know just what it must be like not hearing properly, like you.” Not sure they know exactly – most of them know/hope their hearing is going to suddenly “pop” back into action sometime soon. But even a temporary understanding helps.
    Good to know your GP understands the Accessible Info Standard and that you’ve been able to get understanding and action from all concerned. Good luck – really hope it doesn’t last too long.
    Meanwhile – roll on Pollyanna.

  8. I do hope you feel better soon. I understand that feeling of panic of wondering if you will ever go “back to normal.” As someone with Ménière’s disease my hearing can fluctuate, that was particularly so in the early days before medication helped to stabilise things. It’s very distressing. Fingers crossed that it will sort itself out as they forecast sooner rather than later! I too have strategies and an acceptance of my “bad ear days”now, although in the back of your mind there’s always a what if. Take care x

  9. Thank you for sharing so openly with us .. you are a brave girl must have been difficult at times .. it really has been a strange experience .. take care

    1. I’ve not been feeling as brave as you might think! Writing the blog post helped, though. I’d been putting it off until I could report on a happy ending but then decided it would be more realistic just to post in the midst of it all. I really appreciate your support. Vera

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