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Daniel Haseler went to bed with perfect hearing.
But when the 37-year-old woke up, he was dizzy, and deaf in his left ear.
Daniel Haseler woke up one morning in February and discovered he had lost hearing in his left ear. It has never returned.Credit: Eddie Jim
“It came as quite a surprise,” he recalled. “I thought it might have been a little bit of wax.”
His GP also thought it may have been a build up of ear wax, so it wasn’t until he followed the advice of his concerned partner Elisha and visited the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital three days later, on February 21, that he discovered something was seriously wrong.
He was diagnosed with sudden sensorineural hearing loss, a mysterious condition that has prompted more than 1300 people to seek help from the Melbourne hospital’s emergency department in just over five years. Emergency doctors are seeing about five of these cases each week.
Between 40 and 50 per cent of those diagnosed with the condition — which normally affects one ear and is often accompanied by ringing and noises that are not present in the environment — never regain their hearing.
A new trial at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital is investigating whether injecting steroids into a patient’s inner ear improves their chance of recovery.
Those eligible for it will receive either a placebo or steroid injection in their ear, along with the routine treatment currently prescribed by emergency doctors: an oral course of steroids.
“This is a condition we are seeing almost every day in the ED and it that must be taken seriously,” the hospital’s ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Benjamin Wei said. “If it’s not treated in time, your chance of recovering your hearing greatly decreases.”
The injections give patients a more concentrated dose of steroids where they are needed the most.
Dr Benjamin Wei is an ear, nose and throat specialist from the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.
Doctors don’t know exactly what is causing the hearing loss but suspect it’s linked to inflammation in the ear caused by a virus, immune response or blood supply issues.
While some sudden hearing loss is linked to trauma to the ear, such as a loud explosion, those who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss have no warning when the medical condition upends their lives.
The condition impacts people of all ages and because its onset is so sudden, it can lead to a great deal of anguish, according to Wei.
“With gradual hearing loss, your brain has the ability to compensate and get used to it by using visual cues such as lip-reading,” Wei explains.
“Sudden loss is very distressing for everyone because yesterday they were fine.”
Wei said losing hearing in one ear impacted a person’s ability to detect and filter out background noise, which could create safety issues when driving or walking down the street.
It also significantly impairs their directional hearing, which allows people to identify where sounds are coming from.
Haseler is still grieving the loss of his hearing and adjusting to life with single-sided deafness. He has also developed tinnitus: an annoying and constant ringing in his left ear.
Daniel Haseler is learning to cope with his hearing impiarment.Credit: Eddie Jim
The accountant has to ask people to repeat themselves more frequently and has moved from the open-plan section of his office into a private room where the sound is less overwhelming. He always stands to the left of his girlfriend when they are walking down the street so that he can hear what she is saying. He’s forever grateful that she encouraged him to get checked out.
Unfortunately, oral steroids were not successful in reversing Haseler’s hearing loss, but he’s hopeful the hospital’s trial of steroid injections offers hope to other sufferers.
While Haseler is nervous about damaging the hearing in his right ear, his specialist, Professor Rob Briggs, has given him the green light to return to the noisy crowds of the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch his beloved Bombers.
“Plenty of tears have been shed,” he said.
“I’ve lost my hearing in one ear, but there is more to be thankful for than to lament.”
Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyses science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it each week.
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