Can you imagine giving birth and then immediately discovering that you couldn’t hear anyone? That you were completely deaf? That’s exactly what happened to Heather Simonsen, a mother of three who lives in Utah. Simonsen noticed after each previous pregnancy that sounds would come and go and her ears felt clogged. She saw an ear, nose and throat specialist who advised her that she was gradually losing her hearing in the left ear. She also began to hear a ringing in her ear.
Simonsen didn’t realize that she was developing a condition called Otosclerosis, a disease of the bones of the middle ear. The bones of the middle ear (the maleus, incus and stapes) are usually flexible and transmit sound but with Otosclerosis, this is not possible because the bones become fused together. Simonsen is one of the 0.3% of the population who has this disease that usually begins between the ages of 11 and 30. The hearing loss can be of two types. The first type involves the small bones of the middle ear and is called a conduction type loss (CTL). CTL is the second most common reason for hearing loss where sound is prevented from being sent to the inner ear. If one has to have a hearing loss, this is the best type to have because it is correctible with surgery.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), although the exact reason remains unknown, Otosclerosis might have a genetic component because it is usually passed from parent to child. If one parent has the disorder, there is a 25% chance that the children will be affected. However, if both parents have the disorder, the risk increases to 50%. Why does this disorder affect pregnant women? Research suggests it is because of the hormonal changes of pregnancy and it is often the first time that the diagnosis is made.
What symptoms should a pregnant woman be aware of? If you are having difficulty hearing low-pitched sounds, ringing in the ear or having difficulty hearing people’s whispers, you should have an immediate hearing test. In Simonsen’s case, right after she had her baby, the doctors and nurses were speaking to her but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. Fortunately, she had surgery that has a 90% success rate. She now hears better than she could in the past 10 years and the most important sounds of all, are the cries of her new baby.
*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway*