According to the Hearing Health Foundation from 2000 to 2015 the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled. With 48 million people in America and 360 million worldwide reporting some degree of hearing loss.
Other statistics show that hearing loss is the 2nd most prevalent health issue globally, with the number of people with hearing loss being more than those who live with Parkinson’s, Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Diabetes combined.
What is the common cause of hearing loss? The most common cause is aging, however, of the 48 million approximately 26 million are between the ages of 20-69. Additionally, reports indicate that 15% of school aged children (6-19 years) have some form of hearing loss.
With hearing loss comes the search for treatment, such as surgery or hearing aids. According to the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a substantial number of adults, 28.8 million in the in the United States alone could benefit from wearing hearing aids.
However, hearing aids may not be a solution for everyone, as Newton resident Brenda Wagy found out last year, after losing 100% of her hearing on one side abruptly.
It was January 29, a typical Sunday morning for Brenda Wagy, until she realized when blow drying her hair, that she could not hear it on the right side. “I will admit I panicked a bit and woke my husband, Scott and told him that I had read that hearing loss is to treated as a medical emergency and I needed to go hospital,” Wagy said.
“I found out a few days later that the urgency is so that steroids can be administered within the first 24 hours after the loss. There has been some link to steroids and the return of some or all of ones hearing.
I was not not given a steroid when I went to the emergency room, however my primary physician prescribed one a few days later.”
Wagy saw her primary on Tuesday and was referred to a Ear Nose and Throat specialist the next day, who conducted a hearing test, which concluded that 100% of the hearing on the right side was gone and the left ear was near perfect. The ENT scheduled an MRI for the following Wednesday.
“Not long after my hearing loss, I began to experience debilitating dizziness, which was later diagnosed as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), along with nystagmus (rapid eye movement) and balance issues. The symptoms were so severe that by the following Saturday following the MRI, we were headed to the emergency room (at the hospital where the MRI was done). I was scheduled to see the ENT the following Wednesday for the MRI results.. I was given medications to help with the symptoms and told to see my primary on Monday.”
“On Monday, my primary suggested that I be referred to a physical therapist, who could administer the Epley maneuver, which helps move the crystals within the ear to help restore balance and reduce the vertigo symptoms. My symptoms had gotten so bad that I had difficulty walking, standing without holding on to something. Since it was not safe for me to drive, I was thankful for ATI Physical Therapy being located here in town. I underwent therapy for about two months.”
“Later that week I saw the ENT for my follow up and to discuss what may be able to be done to help with the hearing loss. I was told there was no diagnosis and hearing aids would likely not be of any benefit to me. Someone recommended that I get a second opinion from a specialist that was familiar with vestibular issues.”
“The next day I took to Facebook and wrote a post asking for referrals for an ENT who also treated vestibular issues. It didn’t take long for me to get a response from a friend, who gave me a name of doctor at Carle Foundation Hospital. I immediately called the clinic and was told that it could take 2-4 weeks to get an appointment and that I would need a referral. So I got on the phone to my primary doctor and got the referral process started. The next day (Friday), I got a call from the clinic and they had reviewed my chart and they wanted to see me on Monday morning. Little did I know that appointment would change my life.”
“At that initial appointment I underwent another hearing test for comparison, and testing for the vestibular issues. I was told that I may be a candidate for a cochlear implant. It was during that appointment that I got a diagnosis, Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, likely caused by a virus. I was scheduled for additional testing, which would include wearing a portable BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) on a headband to simulate what hearing would be like with an implant,” Wagy stated.
“Following these tests, Scott and I were told that I was a candidate for the implant. We met with the surgeon and went over the procedure, what to expect and common outcomes. I was told that insurance approval can take days to months to obtain, but once that was done, a surgery date would be scheduled. The next day, I received a call that my insurance approved the surgery and had a surgery date.”
On May 4, Wagy underwent surgery to place an abutment in the bone behind her right ear, and after osteointegration occurred, typically within three weeks a processor can be placed and activated. “I had a few complications following the surgery that delayed getting my processor at three weeks. I am allergic to latex and the healing cap that is placed on the abutment during the healing process, caused a reaction. But once we figured out the cause of the swelling and irritation, I healed rather quickly.”
“In early July I was able to receive my processor that I began to wear daily by sort of snapping it into place on the abutment, which transfers the sounds on the right side by bone conduction to my good ear.”
What has life been like since the implant and activation?
Wagy explained, “This new way of hearing for me has been a process, as your brain has to relearn hearing in another way. I am picking up more sounds and hearing things that I may not have been able to hear with one working ear. It is somewhat difficult to hear in crowds, but the Cochlear implants, don’t just amplify sounds like hearing aids, they increase clarity.”
“To look at me, you wouldn’t know that I have an implant, as it is hidden by my hair, and the processors come in a variety of colors to match most hair colors. Through physical therapy I was able to regain balance, and have fewer vertigo flare ups. I would say I have been able to maintain a normal lifestyle and enjoy going to my son, Noah’s ball games, watch television. A rather cool feature of the BAHA system is they are bluetooth compatible and I have a mini-microphone that I can use in crowds and they work with iPhones to stream directly from the phone to the processor. This has made talking on the phone easier and with less difficulty.”
After reaching out to some people in the hearing community, Wagy contacted Sara Chinnock, an Engagement Manager with Cochlear Americas and began the process of becoming a volunteer with the company. “I have had the opportunity to share my story and what Cochlear has to offer at health fairs, veterans’ fairs, and we spoke at a Newton Rotary meeting in November. We also held a recipient event in November to allow those with Cochlear implants to network and share their stories, tips, etc. Other events are being planned for the upcoming year,” Wagy explained.
“It really is an opportunity to meet others and realize you are not the only person going through this process. You don’t have to go through hearing loss alone, it’s a bond that we share. I am available to assist with finding information, resources, etc. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
On January 29, those with hearing loss will be able to hear more about what Cochlear® has to offer with implantable hearing solutions, at Sunrise Community Center, 1401 Clayton Avenue, Newton from 3-5 p.m. This is a free event for those with hearing loss and/or family members of those with hearing loss.
“This road to better hearing has been a journey and I have met some incredible people who have helped me, encouraged me, and improved my quality of life. Without them I don’t know where I would be,” Wagy added. “If you or someone you love or know suffers from hearing loss, please come see us on January 29 and learn more about implantable hearing solutions.”