Occasionally I am asked, "What caused your hearing loss?" Whenever I hear that question, I immediately suspect the person is asking because a) they assume I must have done something wrong and b) they would like to avoid doing the same thing. Whatever their motive may be, my answer is always "I don't know." After all, that's what my audiologist told me when I asked her. She said it was very common not to know the cause of a sensorineural hearing loss. Even so that hasn't stopped me from speculating what the cause might have been. Here's some of the possibilities I've mulled over from time to time.
- I used to clean my ears with Q-tips. Did I injure my ears doing that? No, my audiologist reassured me. Good to know, but I've quit using Q-tips on my ears anyways.
- Was it from listening to music on my walkman? When I was a moody teenager, I liked to have the volume up to block out the cruel world and wallow in my feelings of angst. After I got my driver's license I would "turn it to the right" whenever one of my favorite songs came on the radio. Actually I am still guilty of that.
- Was it from listening to live music in bars? I liked to go out dancing in my college years and remember one time in particular that I spent part of the night standing next to a speaker.
- Or perhaps it was more recent noise exposure. About ten years ago, my husband went through a gun phase and taught me how to shoot firearms. We always used ear protection at indoor gun ranges, but I don't remember if we wore them when shooting outdoors.
- Maybe it was from a louder bang. Once my son and I were walking in our neighborhood when lightning struck across the street from us. Instinctively I pushed my little boy to the ground and threw myself on top of him for protection. I didn't even fully understand what was happening. I saw the brightest light I have ever seen and thought someone was setting up a photography shoot with umbrella lights. Strange how your mind tries to figure things out in moments like these. I remember the light but don't remember the sound at all.
- Could it have been caused by my aversion to pain? A study published in the American Journal of Medicine March 2010 found a link between regular use of analgesics and hearing loss in men. I've taken plenty of acetaminophen and ibuprofen over the years for sinus pain, headaches, fevers, and muscle pain. Should I have toughed it out instead?
- Or did I take an ototoxic prescription medicine? My grandfather became deaf when he was given an ototoxic medicine in the hospital near the end of his life. I've checked through lists of medicines with ototoxic side effects but I can't identify any that I have taken. I have had the occasional antibiotic over the years, but nowadays I avoid them as much as I can.
- Was my loss inherited or genetic? Other than my grandfather's situation of sudden hearing loss, there is no history of hearing trouble on either side of my family. My parents both hear much better than I do. I found this out when my dad created a computer test for me that played musical tones up the scale. When we played his CD we discovered that my parents can hear multiple tones higher than I can. For me the room was strangely quiet while they were continuing to count out the number of tones they heard. No, I can't pin the blame on them.
- My father was a chemist and since I was a kid has always warned me about the hazards of chemicals. Now that I'm grown and have my own family, I've become the designated painter whenever we do some remodeling. I enjoy painting very much but have to admit that it has exposed me to fumes from paint, mineral spirits, paint stripper, varnish and other household chemicals. Could I have caused my hearing loss by inadvertently inhaling the wrong thing?
I don't know. It may have been the cumulative effects of some of these things and it may not have been from any of them. It's all a medical mystery to me.
What do you think?