Laura has worn hearing aids since she was two-years-old. Her mother took ill with German measles while pregnant, which resulted in Laura contracting Rubella whilst in the womb. She was born with a significant hearing loss.
Despite this, and undergoing intensive speech therapy from a young age, Laura never let her hearing loss hold her back. She attended mainstream primary and secondary school, obtained a Law Degree and loved socialising with friends, travelling and seeing comedy shows. She even took part in an indoor skydive…
Sudden hearing loss
However, a week after her 27th birthday, Laura noticed a muted sensation in her right ear and felt as though she was underwater.
She recalled: “Before the symptoms began I felt physically well with no outward signs of bad health – I just thought I had an ear infection. I booked an appointment with my GP for the following day to check that it was not serious, given my history and was diagnosed with glue ear.
“At first, I was not too worried. I tried to get on with my life, but as the symptoms continued to get worse over a period of four days, the more I panicked. It affected my ability to do my job.
I was due to give evidence in court that week as part of my job as a Prosecuting Assistant and I was dreading it.
“Then on the fifth day I woke to find I could not hear at all and that I was experiencing quite severe tinnitus. I was in floods of tears and extremely panicked!”
Laura immediately visited her local Accident and Emergency department at West Middlesex Hospital. She was diagnosed with a retracted ear drum, which the attending consultant said was a result of mucus build-up from a virus. The consultant even commented that she saw “hundreds of case just like this” every week.
The diagnosis put Laura at ease; however as a precautionary measure she also booked to see her Audiologist at Charing Cross Hospital where she had been treated since a child.
A few days later, Laura underwent a hearing test which revealed the true extent of the problem. She was diagnosed with a Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. This dramatically reduced her ability to hear and left her profoundly deafened in her right ear.
Laura said: “I was immediately prescribed Prednisolone steroids for a period of 12 days in the hope they could bring back some of my hearing. My consultant however was not hopeful it would work. I also underwent an MRI scan to rule out any brain trauma or a tumour, but thankfully this was clear.
“I found out there is no known definitive cause of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (excluding trauma or tumour), but it is thought in my case a virus had attacked my hearing. The consultant told me that once these symptoms occur, it is imperative to get the steroid treatment within 24-48 hours for the best chance of regaining any hearing lost.”
Impact of hearing loss
The impact of her this diagnosis has left Laura with low confidence and difficulties in communicating.
She said: “I can no longer hear on the telephone, especially at work, meaning I cannot fulfil my entire job role. I feel more isolated, especially from family and friends who before this diagnosis I would easily have spoken to on the phone to catch up. I struggle to distinguish speech and rely heavily on lipreading which I never had to do before.”
Cochlear implant assessment
Laura has now undergone assessments for cochlear implant surgery, however, this isn’t a decision she ever thought she would have to make.
She added: “I never considered a cochlear implant because I never thought my hearing could deteriorate more so than it already had. I was happy with the level of hearing I was receiving from my hearing aids and never believed there would be a time when they would not be able to help me.”
“After undergoing months of assessments and scans at St George’s Hospital for a cochlear implant, I was told that I did not meet the NICE criteria by 20 decibels (dB) which, I was informed, is a mere whisper. This obviously came as a huge shock to both me and my family and left me feeling depressed, convinced that there was no hope of regaining some kind of normality.
“I was fortunate enough to have an audiologist who refused to give up on this and he referred me to the Royal National Ear Nose and Throat Hospital where I again underwent all the necessary assessments.
Hearing Link’s programme
“In the meantime I got back in touch with Hearing Link and arranged to attend their Intensive Rehabilitation Programme in Basingstoke. I was unsure of what to expect but felt that it would be beneficial for me to meet other people who were in the same position hearing wise.
“The IRP was hugely valuable for me; the course was superbly run by Hearing Link staff and volunteers. We had a jam packed week full of information, ranging from techniques to help you relax, to assistive learning equipment and sign language lessons. It was extremely beneficial not only to me, but also to my fiancé who came with me. He learned, through wearing earphones with tinnitus sounds and noise cancelling headphones, what it is like for hearing impaired people on a day to day basis and began to understand the challenges we face, especially in regards to communicating with others.
“The course also helped me to realise how well I had been coping with the hearing loss and how independent I still am, which boosted my confidence immeasurably.
Cochlear implant decision
“The Royal National Hospital assessments showed my hearing levels had dropped slightly and now were 5 dB within the NICE criteria set, and after a tense wait, and nearly nine months after the initial hearing loss, I was given the news that I had been accepted for a cochlear implant in my right ear.
“This has given me a huge boost to my confidence, knowing that what I am experiencing now will now only be temporary and I may possibly gain better hearing as a result of the implant. However, the implant isn’t without risks and it will be a long process of rehabilitation, something that could have been prevented had I received the right diagnosis all along.
“However, some may find they are outside of the NICE criteria, but struggle with everyday life with no apparent solution to their problems; this is something that possibly could be prevented with the appropriate medical treatment.
“The impact of hearing loss goes far beyond simply being unable to hear friends and loved ones; it poses safety risks and further health risks, especially with mental health issues such as depression. “
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss
One of the shocking factors of Laura’s diagnosis, from her point of view, was the lack of understanding by health professionals of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss and how urgent medical treatment could prevent others from the same devastating outcome.
She said: “On two occasions when I returned to see a GP after my diagnosis, I was shocked at how unaware they were of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. They were also unaware that it is permanent and urgent treatment is the best chance of regaining hearing. This left me extremely concerned that other people are being misdiagnosed, therefore hampering their chances of regaining any hearing lost.”
Laura is keen to raise awareness of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss and is working with UK hearing loss charity Hearing Link to share her story. She hopes that by doing so other people and healthcare professionals will become more aware of warning signs.
She said: “When I received the correct diagnosis from Charing Cross, I thought back to my misdiagnosis and it rang alarm bells. I started wondering if even a fraction of people were experiencing the same thing as me if they would know to seek help from an ENT specialist.
“I was in the fortunate position of already being under the care of an audiologist, but many people wouldn’t have that safety net. I do not want anyone to have to feel the devastating effects that hearing loss can have on day-to-day life. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss can occur at any age, not just in those who are older and more prone to their hearing deterioration. I want to make sure that people recognise the potential symptoms and ensure they push to see a trained ENT Consultant or audiologist at the earliest opportunity.
“A delay in treatment could be the difference between a mild hearing loss and becoming profoundly deafened. I also want to make sure that all healthcare professionals within the industry know the warning signs and urgently refer patients they suspect might have this condition.
“It is too late to change what has happened to my hearing. I don’t want the same thing to happen to someone else unnecessarily.”
Webpage published: 2018