Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Under Pressure: Her Hearing and Steadiness Returned, but So Did Her Husband's Snoring

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Under Pressure: Her Hearing and Steadiness Returned, but So Did Her Husband's Snoring

Article excerpt

Karen Biggs woke up unable to hear out of her right ear.

For years she wore earplugs to defend her sleep from her husband's snoring. On a morning in early November, though, when she removed the right ear plug, the sounds of the new day didn't return.

"My left ear was fine but the right ear, nothing," she said.

She and her physician thought the ear might be clogged by a cold virus or allergy. But that wasn't it.

The effects were immediate. She trains horses. That means standing in the middle of a ring guiding a horse to walk in circles.

The loss of hearing made her unsteady, even dizzy, sometimes. "And I could hear sounds, but I couldn't tell the direction, where they were coming from," she said.

She saw an ear-nose-throat specialist. The bad news, she had contracted a rare condition, idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss. The worse news, not much can be done about it. It's not so much debilitating as it is a person has to learn to live with one working ear. Rarely does the second ear stop working.

One treatment has worked, said Dr. Rajeev Mysorekar, medical director for the Hyperbaric and Wound Center at Mercy Medical Center: hyperbaric oxygen. That's oxygen under pressure, almost like a decompression chamber used by deep sea divers to get re- acclimated to normal air pressure.

Just as mysteriously, doctors don't know why it works. The treatment was discovered in the late 1960s while researchers were looking for something else.

Mysorekar's department uses the chamber for people who have wounds that won't heal. A person enters the chamber, it is sealed, and high-pressure, 100 percent oxygen is pumped inside, about twice atmospheric pressure.

Some believe the forcing of pure, clean oxygen into the system revs up the body's healing process. The process increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, Mysorekar said. Typically, chronic wounds don't have enough oxygen to heal, he said.

"This gets more oxygen to the areas that need it. The body can build more capillaries and more blood vessels and help the area to heal," he said.

Still, Mysorekar said, how it works on the hearing malady is more mysterious because everything in the ear looks normal, and no one can tell why the hearing mechanism stopped working. …

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