Keeping her head up and her ears open

A trip to Penny Moyer’s house is a journey to all the places she’s been. Moyer and her husband are avid travelers. In fact, they plan to renew their wedding vows in Hawaii next year. For Moyer, traveling is not just about the sights but also the sounds. Outside of being a traveler, Moyer is also a churchgoer and dedicated grandmother. So when she started having trouble with her hearing, she immediately feared the worst.

The first sign of trouble was when Moyer began hearing a buzzing noise in her right ear. She didn’t delay seeking help. A visit with her primary care physician resulted in a referral to Otolaryngologist Stephen Cooper, MD, with Bayhealth ENT (ear, nose, and throat). A hearing test revealed mild hearing loss typically seen with older adults. “Her hearing wasn’t bad; it was actually good. The test showed no findings of hearing loss,” Dr. Cooper said.

So she went home and went about business — as a retired social worker — as normal. “Then a few weeks later I went to bed one night and woke up feeling like I was in an airplane or in the mountains,” Moyer said. “There was this horrible noise in my head and I thought, ‘What is this?’” It was believed Moyer was suffering from an ear infection with possible fluid in her ears, and her primary care referred Moyer to Dr. Cooper again.

Another hearing test was done and the results were staggering, with almost total hearing loss in her right ear. She was diagnosed with sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). This occurs when there’s sudden damage in the inner ear or the nerve pathways that go from the inner ear to the brain. For the most part, there’s no known cause for SSHL. Dr. Cooper says one in three patients diagnosed had an upper respiratory tract infection while two in three patients have no warning or cause for the occurrence.

The cause of SSHL may be vastly unknown but one thing for sure is that it’s imperative to address the hearing loss immediately. Far too often, Dr. Cooper says he sees patients too late to address the SSHL because weeks were spent trying to treat a suspected ear infection. “We have a three-week window of opportunity to increase a patient’s chance of hearing or they may have permanent hearing loss,” Dr. Cooper said. “The fact that her primary care sent her to me right away gave her a better prognosis.”

Upon her diagnosis, Moyer was informed there were two routes for treatment — an oral steroid or a steroid injection. Since Moyer is a diabetic, Dr. Cooper recommended against the oral steroid because it could cause her sugar levels to spike. Therefore, Moyer was given an injection in her ear that day and a second injection at a follow-up appointment. She’s experienced improvement in her hearing, but hasn’t made a full recovery. “I’m starting to hear better in my right ear, but I still have to remind others to talk in my left ear and sometimes I have to turn the TV up,” Moyer said.

The health incident hasn’t stopped Moyer from doing what she loves. While she had to take a temporary break from going to church, she’s since gone back to worship every Sunday. She’s also planning her next big trip — Moyer and her husband love to travel. They’re going to Hawaii next year to renew their vows for their 50th wedding anniversary. She’s also relearning American Sign Language, a skill she previously learned to help a deaf teenager at church. Currently, Moyer is teaching sign language to one of her grandsons just in case there comes a day she can’t hear at all.

“At first I was shocked and started to think I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do — go to Hawaii, go on cruises, listen to my grandson talk — but I turned all that thinking around,” Moyer said. “Life’s too short. I’ll be 69 years old this year, and I’m not promised another 69 years so I’m going to enjoy my time with my grandsons and not take little things for granted.”

Signs of Hearing Loss — Sudden and age-related

Sudden hearing loss is just that, sudden and unexpected. Patients may also experience buzzing and vertigo. “If they’re experiencing dizziness, it’s even more important that they consult with a physician,” Dr. Cooper said.

Age-related hearing loss emerges slowly. There are common signs of hearing loss, including:
  • Straining to hear others or needing frequent repetition
  • Thinking that other people sound muffled while talking
  • Having difficulty hearing in noisy situations
  • Needing to turn the TV or radio volume up
  • Experiencing ringing in your ears
  • Having difficulty following conversations in social situations
  • Needing to read lips when people talk to you

If you believe you’re suffering from hearing loss, make an appointment with your primary care physicianBayhealth ENT has locations in Dover and Milford. To find a physician to fit your family’s needs, call 1-866-BAY-DOCS to learn more about providers in your area.