This week's post is unashamedly all about me and about my experience this week. But it's a blog I'd really like you to share far and wide. Because what happened to me can happen to anyone. And the more people know how to get the help they need, the better their chances will be.
This Monday morning I woke up unable to hear anything. Not a bird. Not the dog barking. Not my husband. Nada.
I had already lost my hearing on my right side overnight 12 years ago. And now the hearing I had in my left ear had packed its bags and left too.
The specialists had no idea what caused my hearing loss the first time around. It had taken a long time for my GP to refer me to ENT, and my hearing could not be salvaged. This time I knew different. In cases of sudden hearing loss you need to see an ENT specialist ASAP. Why? Because treatment with steroids is the most effective option, and for them to have an impact on any inflammation you need to start them quickly.
Consider seeing your GP if you can get in that morning
Rather than head straight to A&E (the ER) I went to my GP surgery for an emergency appointment. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't being a complete drama queen, and that I hadn't simply got a simple ear infection. I hadn't.
I did worry that the GP visit might be wasting precious time. But it wasn't. My GP checked my ears, conducted some basic balance tests, then rang the on-call ENT specialist at the hospital I attend to explain my symptoms and let them know I was heading in. He then scribbled a note and provided me with a print-off of my medication. This all smoothed the path through triage into the A&E waiting room.
What to expect in A&E
A long wait - even on a Monday morning! At reception you will have to confirm your details and also whether you are entitled to treatment. So take your EHIC card or insurance papers if you need them.
You'll then wait until you see a triage nurse who will allocate you to the right specialist. And then settle in for what could be a couple of hours until you see the doctor.
With this in mind, I suggest you take with you:
drinks and snacks
a pen and paper
any prescription pre-payment or exemption card
change for the parking meter and vending machines, and
(very importantly) a hearing person who can listen out for your name being called. I sent my husband off to chill out in Costa and missed my call for triage twice!)
What to expect from the emergency doctor
Expect to repeat everything you've told the triage nurse but in much more detail. While you're waiting for the doctor it's worth thinking about these questions:
any recent health problems or operations
any bangs to your head or accidents (as silly as bumping heads with one of your kids, or knocking your head on a kitchen cupboard)
medication you take - conventional and alternative
any dizziness, nausea or vomiting
any history of ear problems or treatments
any history of hearing loss in your family.
The doctor will also carry out a number of tests which might include:
using a tuning fork on your head to check what you can hear
inspecting inside your ear canal
asking you to stand with your eyes closed
asking you to march on the spot and walk to and fro.
These all give an indication of what/where your problem may be.
What happens next?
At this point, if there is no obvious cause of your hearing loss you may well be prescribed a high dose of oral steroids (Prednisone) which will be dispensed by the hospital pharmacy. Steroids are the first line of attack and will typically be started that same day.
Your doctor may also refer you for an MRI or CT scan, a hearing test and an ENT clinic consultation. Chances are that these won't happen that same day, so here's my top tip. Even if you pass on a mobile number for a hearing friend, all these departments will phone the default phone number on your hospital records. So if you can't answer or hear that phone you need to pop by A&E reception to ask them to replace your phone number with your partner's. We didn't, and ended up with voicemails coming through to my phone that I had to ask neighbours to listen and respond to. That was stressful and disabling.
One last tip
Don't forget to breathe! Losing your hearing is really frightening. And it can feel like no-one is moving fast enough, or really listening to your concerns. But if you go to A&E or your GP sends you there, then rest assured you're on the right path.