She disagreed with her early hearing loss diagnosis. She was right.

Her persistent 18-month search led to a 3rd ear, nostril and throat specialist who found the curable cause

(Cam Cottrill for The Washington Submit)


At 47, Marlene Schultz thought she was a lot too younger to maintain saying “What?” when she couldn’t hear what folks had been telling her.

The Pennsylvania accountant discovered it more and more tough to make out the voices of her teenage sons, a lot to their irritation. At work Schultz typically needed to ask folks to repeat themselves, which embarrassed her. And he or she started cranking up the quantity on her tv, an lodging she hadn’t thought could be essential for years.

So in Could 2018 Schultz consulted the identical suburban Philadelphia ear, nostril and throat specialist her mom had seen years earlier when she developed a listening to downside in her late 60s.

The otolaryngologist ordered audiology testing that discovered low frequency listening to loss in each ears. When Schultz instructed the physician she had additionally developed ringing in her ears, a situation often known as tinnitus, he instructed her that listening to loud music years earlier was the possible reason for her everlasting listening to loss. The one remedy, he suggested, was listening to aids.

“I used to be fairly upset,” Schultz recalled. Why, she puzzled, would somebody who had attended solely a handful of rock concert events and in any other case had little publicity to loud noise want listening to aids at such a younger age? The physician didn’t appear interested by exploring that query.

However Schultz was. Her persistence fueled an 18-month quest that concerned an allergist, an endocrinologist and two further ENTs, the second of whom found the underlying and treatable cause for her downside. It was a discovering that will enormously enhance the standard of Schultz’s life and have implications for her household in addition to a co-worker.

“When a prognosis doesn’t sit proper,” she mentioned, “it’s necessary to get a second opinion — and perhaps extra.”

Based mostly on exams that discovered Schultz was unable to listen to low-pitched sounds, the primary ENT concluded she had gentle sensorineural hearing loss in each ears. Sensorineural listening to loss is widespread and is attributable to harm to the inside ear, which permits the mind to listen to and perceive sounds. It usually impacts the flexibility to listen to excessive frequencies, corresponding to girls’s voices. The most typical trigger is getting older, though loud music or a blow to the pinnacle can even produce it.

The opposite sort of listening to loss — conductive — usually impacts the center ear, which transfers sounds to the inside ear. Conductive listening to loss might be attributable to a perforated ear drum, fluid within the ear, impacted ear wax, an infection or a benign tumor. Relying on the trigger it might be curable. Some folks have a combination of conductive and sensorineural listening to loss.

When she was prepared, the ENT suggested Schultz, she could possibly be fitted for listening to aids that would enhance, however not restore, her listening to.

“I didn’t have that type of cash,” Schultz mentioned. The gadgets price about $3,000 and weren’t coated by her insurance coverage. She determined to muddle by means of and hope her listening to didn’t worsen.

However a 12 months later it had. Not solely had been sounds extra muffled, her ears felt perpetually clogged, as if she had a foul chilly. To make issues worse, Schultz had not too long ago began a brand new job in an open-plan workplace, the place her co-workers spoke in gentle voices to keep away from disturbing others.

In July 2019 Schultz consulted a second ENT affiliated with a distinct well being system. She instructed him concerning the outcomes of her audiology exams and requested whether or not her ear congestion is likely to be associated to her deteriorating listening to.

The second specialist identified postnasal drip and instructed Schultz that her eustachian tubes, which join the nostril and center ear, had been blocked. The physician suspected an allergy is likely to be in charge.

He prescribed a steroid nasal spray to unclog her ears, which could enhance her listening to, and really useful that Schultz seek the advice of an allergist if her situation didn’t enhance.

A month later, she noticed an allergist who carried out pores and skin testing for widespread allergens: timber, pollen, mud mites, mildew and animals. Each take a look at was destructive. The allergist concluded that Schultz had vasomotor rhinitis — a standard situation of unknown trigger that ends in nasal irritation. Environmental triggers can embody stress, temperature adjustments, spicy meals, paint fumes, fragrance or sure medicines.

“I used to be getting determined.”

— Marlene Schultz

One other potential trigger was a bacterial an infection. The allergist prescribed an antibiotic and really useful that Schultz proceed utilizing the nasal spray.

In an try to clear her blocked eustachian tubes and regain a few of her flagging listening to, Schultz had devised her personal treatment. As soon as an hour she put a finger in every ear to alleviate the strain. It labored, however solely briefly.

“I used to be getting determined,” she recalled and made an appointment with an endocrinologist to see if he had any concepts. He really useful two over-the-counter medication however zeroed in on her enlarged thyroid. In late October, he carried out a needle biopsy on a peanut-sized nodule that was discovered to be benign.

Three weeks later Schultz underwent an MRI scan of her mind, which medical doctors hoped may make clear the reason for her ear fullness and presumably her listening to loss. It revealed nothing irregular.

After greater than a 12 months of looking out, her listening to was worse and Schultz was no additional alongside than when she began.

“I wasn’t certain what to do or the place to go,” she recalled.

On the suggestion of a relative, Schultz contacted one in every of her cousins, an ENT in Boston.

He suggested her to see a listening to specialist at one in every of Philadelphia’s giant instructing hospitals. Schultz perused the web site of Penn Medication, scrutinizing the descriptions of varied otolaryngologists and scheduled an appointment with a specialist whose experience sounded promising.

4 weeks later, in December 2019, she met with Douglas Bigelow, a head and neck surgeon who heads the division of otology and neurotology.

Bigelow ordered a brand new spherical of listening to exams that differed markedly from the unique audiology outcomes. This time Schultz’s listening to loss was categorized as conductive, not sensorineural. That meant that relying on its trigger, her downside is likely to be fixable.

Her age, signs and take a look at outcomes, Bigelow instructed her, pointed to a situation known as otosclerosis, the commonest reason for center ear listening to loss in younger and middle-aged adults.

Otosclerosis impacts about 3 million Individuals, principally middle-aged White girls. Many instances are regarded as inherited. Listening to loss outcomes from irregular bone progress within the center ear that impacts the stapes, the smallest bone within the physique, situated behind the eardrum. The stapes turns into frozen in place and can’t vibrate, thereby impairing the flexibility of sound to cross into the inside ear.

“I used to be so relieved to know what I had and excited there was a option to repair it.”

— Marlene Schultz

Gradual listening to loss, which generally begins in a single ear, tends to be the primary symptom. Many individuals are initially unable to listen to low-pitched sounds or a whisper. Some expertise dizziness, steadiness issues or tinnitus.

A affected person with a traditional eardrum and the lack to listen to low tones “is type of traditional for otosclerosis,” Bigelow mentioned, including that “her listening to loss was clearly conductive once I noticed her.” The preliminary discovering of sensorineural listening to loss, which isn’t surgically treatable, “could possibly be on account of technical points with the audiologist,” he noticed.

“More often than not a very good ENT will provide you with the right prognosis,” he mentioned of the prognosis. “She had different signs together with congestion and emotions of fullness in her ears which may have led folks in different instructions.”

Otosclerosis might be handled with listening to aids, however stapedectomy surgical procedure could supply higher outcomes.

The operation entails the insertion into the center ear of a prosthetic system to interchange the stapes, restoring listening to. Some listening to loss could persist after surgical procedure. And generally individuals who endure the operation wind up with worse listening to.

Schultz, who had by no means heard of otosclerosis, mentioned she was thrilled that she may be capable of repair the issue that was “driving me nuts.”

“I used to be so relieved to know what I had and excited there was a option to repair it,” she mentioned. Subsequent CT scans confirmed she had otosclerosis in each ears.

Bigelow, who estimated he has carried out about 1,000 stapedectomies in his 30-year profession, operated on Schultz’s left ear in June 2020. The operation on her proper was carried out a 12 months later.

Probably the most tough months, Schultz mentioned, had been these main as much as the primary surgical procedure. In the course of the early days of the pandemic whereas working from dwelling, Schultz spent hours in Zoom conferences she dreaded, struggling to listen to what others had been saying. She typically didn’t know when it was her flip to talk.

Schultz has since regained about 90 p.c of her listening to in each ears. The congestion and clogged feeling have disappeared. The tinnitus stays however is gentle.

Her prognosis had different ramifications.

Her mom, who had been instructed years earlier that her listening to loss was age-related, was discovered to have otosclerosis however determined towards surgical procedure. And on account of Schultz’s expertise, one in every of her work colleagues was identified with otosclerosis and underwent profitable surgical procedure.

“I hear most sounds now and it’s great,” Schultz mentioned. “I keep in mind sitting in my kitchen and listening to a low groaning sound and realizing it was coming from the fridge and that I hadn’t been in a position to hear it for years. I believed, ‘That is nice!’”

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