Most people with hearing loss in Tucson have trouble understanding higher frequencies. They have special difficulty with women’s and children’s voices. An unusual condition called reverse-slope hearing loss made headlines last week when a woman from China woke up unable to hear her boyfriend’s voice. The condition is so rare, only about 3,000 people on the North American continent combined are diagnosed with reverse-slope hearing loss.
What is Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss?
The woman, identified by her surname only – Chen – went to bed feeling nauseous and experiencing a ringing in her ears. When she awoke, she found she could not understand her boyfriend, or the voice of any other man, for that matter. She was subsequently diagnosed with reverse-slope hearing loss, and news outlets worldwide picked up the story due to the very rare nature of the diagnosis.
Few people have ever heard of reverse-slope hearing loss. The condition is characterized by an inability to hear low-pitched sounds. This is why Chen was unable to hear her boyfriend, as men tend to have deeper voices in the lower pitches than women. A person with reverse-slope hearing loss will also have difficulty understanding vowels, which tend to have more low-pitch energy and contribute more to our sense of volume than consonants, which are higher-pitched and contribute more to speech clarity.
Causes and Treatment of Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss
There are three main causes of reverse-slope hearing loss:
- Genetics. A particular gene might inhibit the development of hair cells in the inner ear responsible for pitch perception.
- Meniere’s disease. This disorder of the inner ear is characterized by vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus. It affects the fluid surrounding the inner ear and can also lead to difficulty in understanding low-pitched sounds.
- Sudden-onset conditions. In Chen’s case, the hearing loss came on with no warning. This is often the case with reverse-slope hearing loss. A viral infection is often to blame, but sometimes the exact cause or condition is never known.
Treatment options for reverse-slope hearing loss are limited. Those who develop the condition as a result of genetics cannot reverse the damage. Others who develop the condition suddenly may be able to reverse the symptoms through a steroid injection through the eardrum, though the success rate of this treatment is mixed at best. Many times, symptoms remain. Individuals with reverse-slope hearing loss may be helped by counseling and coping strategies designed to improve their quality of life.
While the odds of developing reverse-slope hearing loss are extremely rare, should you notice trouble understanding low-pitched voices, please schedule an appointment with your Tucson hearing specialist immediately.