As Chris Cooper switched on the car ignition to begin his half-hour journey home, a loud, unexplained humming began in his ears. By the time he drew up outside his home near Winchester, he could barely hear the music on his car radio. ‘The sound was like a lawnmower, and at first I thought it was coming from outside,’ says Chris, 54, a business director. ‘I turned up the radio but couldn’t hear the music. ‘I began to panic, but tried to reassure myself that I probably had wax in my ear.’The next morning Chris was still barely able to hear a thing, and when his wife Gill, 50, spoke to him it sounded like ‘a muffled Dalek’.
He was shocked to be told that he had suffered sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or sudden deafness — a condition which affects thousands of Britons each year, and which can occur without warning, affecting one or, as in Chris’s case, both ears. Chris had never heard of the condition before.
The condition can be triggered by various things, says Andrew Camilleri, ear, nose and throat surgeon at the University Hospital of South Manchester and the Alexandra BMI Hospital in Cheshire. ‘The blood supply to the ear may be suddenly cut off by a blood clot or thrombosis in the cochlear artery. ‘This can happen randomly, though the overweight, elderly and those with a history of vascular problems are also more at risk. Sudden hearing loss can even be triggered by a virus, such as a cold, which can go on to attack the ear, damaging blood vessels and the cochlea. Or a bacterial infection can also trigger it.
Modern medicine is yet to offer any real hope, other than a cochlear transplant — a surgically electronic hearing device, often referred to as a bionic ear — to those who are profoundly deaf in both ears.
Patients are unlikely to get full hearing and have to wear a microphone, speech processor and radio transmitter coil.
This has left Chris with no choice but to get used to life without clarity of sound.
‘At first I just thought this is so bloody unfair. And I desperately wish I’d have been treated sooner.
‘But I tell myself lots of people have far worse disabilities, such as losing limbs or their sight. I used to be a windsurfer instructor, and when I really want some therapy I go sailing.
‘Out there with nature I can enjoy the silence.
‘In everyday life I have no other choice but to endure it, so I do the best I can.’
If you have any questions about hearing loss contact Hidden Hearing.