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  • Writer's pictureKetan Pandit

Living with someone suffering from Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL) - Part 1

What started as near perfect weekend, quickly unravelled into one of our worst nightmares.

Sonal & I
Sonal & I

We were looking forward to this weekend in March. The kiddo's exams were over. Work was in control. We were well rested. We had plans to meet a few friends over dinner.

Sonal, my wife woke up with a niggling cold, and slight body ache. You know the kinds that is a precursor to an oncoming fever. Over the next couple of hours, she developed a fever. We attributed it to a potential COVID infection. We'd already gone through COVID a couple of times, so we knew what we needed to do. No biggie. A lot of rest, paracetamols, hydration - we knew the drill to follow. Or so we thought.

I developed symptoms by evening, so we were certain this was a viral infection. Needless to say, we had to cancel the dinner, and stay at home.

This was on March 25, 2023.

By Monday, I felt wrecked. I had high fever, but the missus recovered somewhat and headed to work. I slept the whole day. By Monday evening I felt better and ready to resume work.

On Tuesday morning, Sonal complained that she couldn't hear the otherwise very noisy fan in our room. At first, I thought it was her blocked ears from the infection, but she was sure it wasn't that. I was hopeful that her ears would 'pop' in a couple of hours - like when you are in an airplane. But by 5 PM life as we knew it was going to change completely. Sonal called me from office and told me she couldn't hear a thing. She couldn't hear her colleagues; she couldn't hear me on the phone. Complete and utter silence. This was very scary.

We called our family doctor, who told us to go meet an ENT ASAP. This was as serious as a heart attack, and Sonal needed IMMEDIATE attention. We took an appointment with the first ENT specialist we could find, and who was available. This was 8 PM. Sonal still couldn't hear. By now we were in absolute panic mode. The doctor did a couple of tests, including testing with a tuning fork, and an audiometry. The audiometry showed substantial reduction in her hearing levels. The ENT told us this could be a case of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss OR SSHL - a condition which can happen to anyone, anytime.

What is Sudden sensorineural hearing loss ?

The American Academy of Audiology defines SSHL as:

"Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is defined as a rapid onset of hearing loss over a 72-hour period. It usually occurs in one ear and can be associated with other symptoms such as dizziness and ringing in the ear (tinnitus). It can affect people at any age, but it is most common in adults between 50-60 years of age."

But the good news was, if treated within the golden window of 72 hours, the damage could be somewhat revered. So, we had to rush to the emergency ward of a proper hospital, and immediately administer a cocktail of steroids over the next couple of days. We rushed to Nanavati Hospital to get the treatment started. This hospital was our first mistake. Before they could give us an admission, they had to test Sonal for COVID - hospital protocol. Her rapid antigen test came back positive, and we were refused admission. The hospital had no COVID specific wards. This was shocking to the say the least, as Nanavati is one of the biggest and reputed hospitals in the neighbourhood. We had already wasted 2 hours by now.

Thanks to the doctor, we found a small nursing home that would administer the required medication in the OPD. With great hope, we got Sonal the first dosage intravenously. This would show results in the next 5 hours or so. We also had to return the next day for another dosage. Nothing happened in the 24 hours since the first dosage and we returned for the second prescribed dosage the next evening. We got that too. But nothing happened. No improvement whatsoever. By now we knew we needed the big guns, and a second consult.

After asking around, we were directed to the Head of ENT at Kokila Ben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. The head of ENT - Dr. Sanjiv Badhwar - a master of his field, told us this was very likely SSHL, and our first course of action was correct. In his experience, some patients recovered, and some didn't. We'd have to wait and see. And be hopeful.

Dr. Badhwar, who runs a very tight OPD, has an excellent team of doctors who work and train under him. Everyone from the receptionist to the senior residents were extremely empathetic - something you do not often see at hospitals. The team told us to not give up hope. We were in the best hands.

The course of treatment recommended by Dr. Badhwar involved a few investigations - blood work, MRI, audiometry tests. Every test was clear - except the audiometry which continued to show severe hearing loss. The bloodwork came back clean - they wanted to rule out auto-immune disorders. The brain MRI ruled out any tumour or malignancy on the nerves.

The doctor explained to us that hearing loss is of two types (I am no doctor, so I am paraphrasing). One type of hearing loss happens when the bone responsible for conduction deteriorates over time - as we age. This is the kind of hearing loss we see in older parents, or grandparents. The other kind, which Sonal suffered from was due to the death of nerve endings responsible for communicating the sound signals to the brain.

The prescribed course of action was oral steroids (I am not naming any drug - please consult your specialist), hyperbaric oxygen therapy and intra-tympanic injections if things did not improve soon.

The audiometry results continued to be demotivating, and we were prescribed hearing aids to arrest further deterioration.

The next few months, unbeknownst to us, were really going to be a test of our faith and patience.

We began the second consult treatment (this should have been the first course of action for us) in earnest and with faith. I stayed off from Google - it does more harm than good - as I saw later, but Sonal had to know more.

By now she was anxious. After all, hearing loss is not for the young (or so we thought). It shouldn't be happening to us! Her anxiety was through the roof and had begun impacting her well-being and everyday life.

We started the hyperbaric oxygen therapy the next day. 3 days a week for a few weeks. By god's grace we got a time slot that worked for us at the start of the day.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

For now, we had to be patient, not panic, exercise, take our meds on time, and get back to the 'normal' routine.

But normal as we'd known, had forever changed.

Coming up in Part 2:

  1. Coming to terms with SSNHL

  2. The role exercise and rest

  3. The role of a counsellor

  4. Resources to help you navigate; and more.

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