The Spectrum of Hearing Loss, Tinnitus, and Constant Fatigue

By Joy Onozuka

For 25 years, Janet Rosen compensated for hearing loss through hearing aids. That all changed one morning in June 2013, when she woke up completely deaf and trapped by raging tinnitus in her home in West Bloomfield, MI.

“It was horrific,” said Rosen, who sought immediate medical advice from her audiologist and an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, both of whom couldn’t provide a conclusive reason for the sudden onset of deafness.

She was put on a 28-day course of prednisone to see if the steroid would restore her hearing. The stress of inexplicable deafness and high-pitched tinnitus was heightened by what Rosen described as insensitive medical care at the ENT office, ranging from nonsensical advice to listen to an iPod to block out the tinnitus to the refusal of an audiologist to write down answers to her questions about her deafness and treatment options. “I (was) totally deaf,” said Rosen, still baffled by the senseless suggestion to listen to an iPod.

When the steroid treatment did not work, Rosen’s next step was evaluation for a cochlear implant.  “After many tests, including an MRI, a brain scan, and evaluation by a neurologist, it was determined that I qualified for and needed a cochlear implant,” she said.

So, almost five months after going deaf, Rosen had out-patient cochlear implant surgery and hoped for the best. She anticipated being unable to hear clear sound when the device was activated three weeks later. “I had read a lot of research and … knew that when you are first given your processor you do not hear well.” She did, however, hear her audiologist clearly from the start. This represented a highly successful outcome.

“From that point on, it was a process of rehabbing and programming the processor with frequent mapping,” Rosen said. With her hearing restored and the tinnitus gone, Rosen was ecstatic!

For her right ear, Rosen was fitted with a leading-edge hearing aid, which in combination with her cochlear implant, enabled her to hear more than 90 percent of sound. “High- and soft-pitch voices are hard to hear,” she said, and shared that sound directionality remains a problem since the hearing aid and processor are different modes of hearing.

To ensure optimal hearing and operation of the cochlear implant, Rosen is examined biannually by her audiologist, who adjusts the processor’s electrodes. It’s a 90-minute mapping process, which demonstrates the complexity of the technology, the need for regular care, and ongoing changes in the auditory processing system.

Those who use hearing aids and/or cochlear implants know that it is recommended that they be removed and placed in a drying kit at night to eliminate moisture absorbed while being worn during the day. This helps avoid damaging or compromising the longevity of the devices.

About a year ago, when Rosen took off the cochlear processor as she prepared for bed, the tinnitus resumed. “The moment I take off my processor, the tinnitus begins raging again,” Rosen said. When she puts the processor back in, the tinnitus stops immediately. That continues today, so, as a result, Rosen struggles to find balance between allowing the processor to dry at night and getting adequate sleep.

Given the choice between taking antidepressants, Benadryl, or prescription sleep medication to induce sleep, Rosen opted for Benadryl, which enables her to sleep about five hours without the processor.  She would prefer to take nothing, but has found the fatigue is too grueling.

Despite the various challenges, Rosen feels blessed by the gift of restored hearing through her cochlear implant, the ability to switch tinnitus off by reconnecting her processor, and the proximity of her cochlear support group.