I thought I had ManFlu - that almost mythical illness - the same Flu that anyone gets, but because it's a man suffering from it, it is obviously ten times worse. It did seem to come on very quickly this time though - I was getting through whole boxes of tissues in hours and the substances coming out of my nose make me feel ill just remembering it. I took various cold and flu remedies, but nothing seemed to be working. My appetite went, my sleep was disturbed - I was having the most vivid bizarre dreams and sweating buckets, but then, the nightmare scenario (for a sound engineer) happened.
I was taking a long shower, mainly to wash the sweat off, and I got some water in my ears. Nothing unusual about that. Normally I just tilt my head to one side and it clears out. This time though, it didn't. Suddenly it seemed like someone had engaged a Low-Pass Filter on my left ear and rolled all the HF out. That's when I started to panic. I stumbled out of the shower and almost fell flat on my face. I couldn't seem to walk properly anymore and it felt like someone had nailed a plaster cast into my ear.
It being a Saturday in the UK, there weren't any doctors open, so I went to my nearest pharmacy for advice. They told me to ring the non-emergency (not in my opinion!) medical advice telephone line - 111 here in the UK. After checking that I wasn't suffering from anything more serious, they booked me into my nearest Accident & Emergency department to see the out-of-hours doctor. After a three hour wait (I don't have private medical insurance), I saw a lovely doctor who took one look in my ear and up my nose and quickly prescribed me antibiotics.
How Can A Sinus Infection Cause Hearing Loss?
There's a reason why there's just one "ENT" department in a hospital - your ears, nose and throat are all interconnected. Get an infection in one and it's most likely the others will be affected. There are two types of hearing loss -
- Sensorineural hearing loss - which is caused by damage to the sensitive hair cells inside the inner ear or damage to the auditory nerve. This occurs naturally with age or as a result of an injury.
- Conductive hearing loss - which happens when sounds are unable to pass from your outer ear to your inner ear, often because of a blockage such as earwax or glue ear.
An ear infection may sometimes cause temporary or reversible hearing loss. This generally occurs because the infection blocks sound from passing through the ear canal or middle ear to the inner ear. This is a form of conductive hearing loss. You may hear sounds as muffled or indistinct. Types of infection that may cause temporary or reversible hearing loss include -
- Inflammation or infection of the ear canal. This condition is often referred to as "swimmer's ear," though water in the ear is not the only cause. Inflammation, swelling, or buildup in the ear canal may block sound from moving to the middle ear. Hearing usually returns on its own after the infection goes away.
- Middle ear infection. Swelling and or pus may block sound from moving to the inner ear. Hearing usually returns on its own after the infection goes away. Untreated middle ear infections may cause permanent damage to the structures of the middle ear that results in permanent hearing loss, but this is rare. Most ear infections get better on their own, but sometimes antibiotics may be needed.
- Fluid in the space behind the eardrum. This may occur with or without infection. Fluid buildup may distort sound or block its passage to the inner ear. Fluid behind the eardrum usually clears on its own, although the eardrum may burst if the fluid in the middle ear becomes infected.
- Viral infection of the cochlea (the main sensory organ of hearing). This causes sudden hearing loss. The viruses that cause this type of hearing loss are thought to be the same ones that cause upper respiratory infections such as influenza or a cold. Hearing may not return, may partially return, or may completely return.
What Else Can Cause Hearing Loss?
When I called the NHS telephone line they checked that I wasn't suffering from anything more serious. These can include -
- Viral infections of the inner ear and or auditory nerve– such as mumps, rubella or measles
- Ménière's disease – where a person suffers with vertigo, spells of hearing loss, tinnitus and the feeling of a blockage in the ear
- Acoustic neuroma – a benign growth on or near the auditory nerve
- Meningitis – an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord
- Encephalitis – inflammation of the brain
- Multiple sclerosis – a neurological condition affecting the central nervous system
- Stroke – where the blood supply to the brain is cut off or interrupted
As I have a family history of cardiovascular issues, I took particular interest in the last one listed above. Indeed I also have a predisposition to sinusitis, which can also be linked to these issues, so it's something I keep an eye on.
What Can I Do To Prevent This?
Simple. Look after yourself. Many of my peers have experienced the situation where once they've completed a long and stressful project, they then go down with Flu or some other illness. Personally, I find it usually happens when I've been working on long feature film projects. All the factors are there - I'm spending weeks at a time, with long hours, in a darkened air conditioned room, in reasonably high-stress situations, often exposed to a high volume level. These are all stress factors that can contribute to your health getting run down.
In my case it was down to a number of factors - I'd been going through an intense period of family and work stress, but I'd also been burning the candle at both ends - I hadn't been looking after my food intake, I'd been drinking too much coffee, smoking too much, all the stupid things you do when you're stressed. It shouldn't really have come as any surprise. So here are my top tips for maintaining your auditory health -
- Take Regular Breaks - for every full hour you're exposed to high sound pressure levels, take at least a ten-minute break
- Lay Off The Coffee - this is my Achilles heel - I am a complete caffeine addict - it's my only real vice. Smoking also obviously falls under this banner. Stimulants and depressants have a huge effect on your physical and mental health, which all contributes.
- Keep Headphones and IEMs Clean - I love my in-ear monitors, but I all too often mislay the carrying pouch and they end up being stored in my pocket. I also don't clean them anywhere near enough. Think about it - use the same hygiene standards as you would with anything else you insert into your body.
- Look After Your Nutrition - eat regularly and well. There's a lot of debate about whether vitamin supplements actually help, but the thing to remember is that your body is designed to extract all the nutrients it needs from your food.
Don't Rely On Doctor Google
Here I am, on a web blog, dishing out health advice, when what I should have simply said is, "Go See A Doctor". However, life isn't always that simple. Not everyone can get to a doctor during working hours and if you're self-employed you don't get sick pay. Prevention is always better than a cure, so I hope that the information and tips I've given here are of help. Regardless of what DAW you use, what computer you use, whether you do live sound, music, post production, game sound, one thing unites us all, which is that we rely on our ears. So look after them.