Blocked ears – the update

Five weeks on from my ears becoming totally blocked after a virus, things are a lot better.  Not normal yet, but massively improved.  I can’t tell you how relieved I am.  Despite reassurances from the medical profession, it was scary.  Here’s what’s been going on since the first post.

By the end of that post I was talking about a slight but significant improvement.  Some sound got through.  Some speech came back.  But it wasn’t the speech I was used to hearing and it took a lot of hard work to understand, even sitting in a quiet room focussed on just one person. I was like this on the day of my follow-up appointment at the Ear Nose and Throat Department.  Sitting in the room with the doctor, concentrating hard, I could follow what he said, which was to repeat the diagnosis that I had fluid behind the eardrums and it would eventually drain.  I didn’t explain last time how they knew this.  There is a procedure called tympanometry where an audiologist uses an instrument to cause a short puff of pressure in the outer ear (it doesn’t hurt) to assess whether the eardrum is vibrating normally in response.  Mine wasn’t.  The fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum, was stopping it moving as it should, so sounds weren’t travelling through the ear to my cochlear and brain.

Copyright: pablofdezr / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: pablofdezr / 123RF Stock Photo

The doctor was reassuring and kind and I asked how long it might take.  “It could take weeks yet”, he said, grimacing sympathetically.  Instinctively I groaned “oh no….” and started telling the tale of everything I couldn’t do and how difficult things were – from not even being able to talk normally to my husband to cancelling all the activities I had planned for the late winter (all of which seemed to involve meetings, talks and people in groups).  Then I stopped myself, raised both hands in a gesture of apology and said something like “I’m sorry – this isn’t helping” but he was quick to step in and say “no, no, I quite understand – you have very poor hearing and this event has reduced it very significantly even from that level – I can appreciate how upset you must be and how difficult you must be finding it.”  Another perfect medical response.  How important it is to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

He had an action plan too.  He prescribed six days of steroid nose drops, to attempt to speed up the clearing of the Eustachian tubes, which is how the fluid needed to drain.  He advised me to try to “pop” them periodically by blowing gently down my nose with my nose held closed.  He explained that if all else failed they could drain the fluid (with grommets I think…..like a child with glue ear) but that he needed to try non-invasive methods first.  He would organise another follow up appointment in about four weeks.

Off I went home to try the drops.  I’d been told to administer them by lying flat on my back on the bed with my head lolling backwards over the side, so that my nose was more or less upside down, thus maximising the chances of the drops getting to the right place.  It didn’t sound too bad.  Eager to try any treatment that might work I went upstairs and flung myself enthusiastically into position.  Oh goodness.  The room reeled, my stomach heaved……  Groaning, I hauled myself back onto the bed and lay still for a while, until the room stopped spinning.  To cut a long story short, I learnt over the next week to ease myself gingerly into position, keeping my eyes closed throughout.  Then it was OK.  And talking of “gingerly”, ginger tea helped the nausea.

Copyright: mkoudis / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: mkoudis / 123RF Stock Photo

Meanwhile, life went on.  Our dog Izzy has been a lifesaver over the past few weeks.  Taking her for walks was the one bit of life that felt fully normal for a while.  I love being out with her, she never says anything and (oddly) I could hear whatever I said to her.  Some people tell me they chat to their dogs on walks.  I don’t but I do sometimes say things, whether it is “what a beautiful morning Izzy, aren’t we lucky?” or “for goodness sake leave that alone” (what is it with Labradors and smelly rabbit carcasses?).  I could “hear” all this quite clearly, maybe because my brain already knew what I was saying!?  Indeed sometimes I convinced myself that my hearing was better, and then felt deflated when I got home and it wasn’t.

The exercise was good for my morale (all those endorphins) and the cold winter air made my nose run (which I convinced myself was helping clear the blockage).

Back home, things very slowly improved, although progress wasn’t linear.  Some days more sound seemed to be getting through, then the next day things went backwards again.  But gradually, the sounds of the house started returning – the tapping of the keyboard first, then the washing machine, eventually the fan oven.  When I was watching subtitled TV I began to hear the sound of speech, even if I couldn’t decipher it.  To begin with, there had just been silence.

Speech, of course, is always the hardest.  All those annoying, high-pitched, short, rapid consonants.  What a miracle it is that people “hear” and make sense of it.  Gradually, though, Nigel and I progressed.  (I wasn’t really talking to anyone else).  We moved from short sentences, sitting within three or four feet of each other, both of us sometimes thinking “is this communication absolutely essential?” to slightly easier chats.  We then progressed to really quite detailed conversations from – oh – all the way across the kitchen.

I then braved going to see friends.  Ruth filled me in on the archaeology group’s activities.  Fiona gamely responded when I turned up more than once at her house, barking out “say something – I’m trying to gauge if it’s any better”.

Today??  Things are better.  Speech still doesn’t sound exactly as I remember it from Christmas time (crackly?? too quiet??) but it is back. I’m hoping for another hearing test at the next follow-up appointment so that I can substitute facts for memory.  Normal life is returning.  On Saturday Fiona and I went to the theatre (captioned performance, but we talked all the way there in the car and train – something I couldn’t have conceived of just a few days previously).

I am hugely grateful for this happy ending and quite humbled by the effect such a minor thing has had on me.  Minor because it seems to be almost over (after only five weeks – it seemed like eternity but it really wasn’t) and minor because other people suffer so much worse.  In the first post I talked about people who suffer from permanent sudden hearing loss.  The technical term for one form of this is SSHL (Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss).  There are blogs if you would like to learn more about it.

Laura Lowles experienced SSHL in 2014 and started her blog, The Invisible Disability and Me, to talk about her experiences and to try to help other people in a similar position.  She has a cochlear implant now and has just published a short e-book giving lots of hints and tips for coping with hearing loss.  Proceeds from the book are going to the excellent charity Hearing Link, so a purchase supports a very good cause.

More immediate and raw is a new blog by Carly – a young British woman living and working in Spain – who experienced SSHL in one ear in December.  She is blogging about her life as she undergoes treatment – in hospital to begin with and now back home.  Do read it – it brings home how trivial my experience has been.

Post Script:  Even since first drafting this post a couple of days ago things have improved further.  It seems as if the nose drops made a huge difference, although the passage of time probably helped too.  I haven’t braved groups of people yet but I will soon.  I feel as if I’m back, if you know what I mean.

Finally then, a HUGE thank you to NHS doctors, to Nigel, to Izzy and to all my friends (both flesh and blood and cyber) – your support really kept me going and I’m very grateful.

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13 thoughts on “Blocked ears – the update

  1. I love the emoji upsidedown! I don’t think my laptop will do that. Very pleased that you are getting back to some normality. We’ll hear your Housing class sometime. Looking forward to seeing you around again.

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    1. I’m wondering what people use the upside down emoji for, if they are not trying to describe hanging precariously off the end of the bed! See you soon and many thanks for your good wishes.

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  2. I am so pleased you are slowly getting your hearing back, it can be quite frightening to suddenly not be able to hear. Your ENT department sound brilliant so this must have been a tremendous help to you. I don’t have a dog but I can imagine what a comfort your dog must be to you, please continue to let us all know how you progress.

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  3. Hi Vera
    Izzy’s behaviour is very interesting and who can say why she pulled you into the verge. What I will say is dogs are far more intelligent and perceptive than they are given credit for. Xx

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  4. Vera, i just read your post. I was so surprised to see my blog details, and thank you so much for your kindness in mentioning me! You actually brought a tear to my eye and also made me smile. I am starting to fall in love with this little bit of my life in the blogging world, and it amazes me how kind strangers can be and how much support there is out there. You really made my day today.
    I am also glad to hear you are feeling much better. As I still have one ear that is working well, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be with hearing loss in both ears, and then for fluid behind your ear drums as well! Sending you my best wishes for good health. Enjoy the walks in the countryside with your dog Izzy – I bet it’s cold there right now!! –
    P. S. I grew up in Yorkshire and my family still live there 😉

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    1. Hi there. I’ve found blogging very morale-boosting. People are great and so supportive. I’m sure you’ll continue to find the same thing. On the issue of hearing loss in both ears I would say yes, but for me the loss has been so gradual that it has been much easier to cope with than you might imagine. The sobering thing about my little virus-related incident is how the suddenness of the change in what I could hear so upset me. I consider myself a very resilient human being normally, but this really rocked me.
      All very best wishes from, yes, a chilly Yorkshire!

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  5. Your blog is really inspirational though the blocked ears must have been exhausting as well as terrifying. Hope they clear completely very soon.

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    1. Thank you Sue. I will happily confess to having felt exhausted, terrified and very fed up. Patience is not one of my strong points, sadly, and I found it hard just to hunker down and wait. But things seem so much better in the last few days and the support from readers of the blog has been wonderful.

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  6. Great news Vera that the slow but steady improvement continues. And that you receive such conpassionate support from the medical profession. My best experiences have always been with those who care and empathise.

    I once had a brilliant session with hearing aid technician who “got” everything I was trying to say. At the end he turned his head to reveal a BAHA (bone-anchored hearing aid) which explained a lot. At the opppsite end of the spectrum I once was told by a young & busy ENT consultant to stop wearing my hearing aids for a week if I was so concerned about infections. I brought him up sharp by suggesting he went without his glasses for a week.

    And well done Izzy again – where would we be without our faithful chums who don’t need to “converse” but do it so magically with body language instead?! Gawd luv ’em, as Keefy would say 🙂

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    1. Thanks Deb. Izzy has adapted, I think. Because she isn’t a Hearing Dog she normally accepts that I take charge when we are out. So if a car appears behind us on a quiet lane she doesn’t shift until I hear it, even if the car is only yards away when that happens. But a couple of times recently she has mysteriously pulled me into the verge and when I’ve looked round it was because a car was coming. Does she somehow know I’m not as “in control” as normal?? Or is she just scared of getting run over??? Just to reassure you, the cars are going so slowly the only danger is to the temper of motorists whose engines I can’t hear!

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  7. That sounds awful! Though I do like the image of you making yourself ill by flinging yourself upside down. Probably not worth going through just for that, but it made me laugh. I am glad you are feeling a bit better.

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