This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Imagine waking up in the hospital after giving birth and not being able to hear anyone around you. For one Utah mother, it became reality after delivering her third child.
The terrifying scenario happened to Heather Simonsen, who started to recognize her hearing fading with her first two pregnancies. With her third child, Simonsen went suddenly deaf overnight after delivering the baby.
The first sounds of life are miraculous for almost every parent, and Simonsen was excited to experience all of the first noises with her children, but with each new delivery, her hearing disappeared a little more.
"It's very discombobulating and disconcerting," Simonsen said. "I didn't know what was wrong."
With each pregnancy, her ears felt clogged and sounds would come and go. She went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, who told her she was beginning to lose hearing in her left ear and would soon need hearing aids.
"I could tell when I was losing hearing. Gradually I would have these symptoms ringing in my ear," she described.
I could tell they were talking to me, but I could not hear them at all. I could tell that they were speaking more loudly, but I could not understand what they were saying.
Simonsen accepted it and figured it was something she would have to live with. She was thrilled to learn she was expecting her third child in August of last year, but hours after delivering in the hospital, Simonsen's doctors came in to speak with her and she couldn't hear what they were saying.
"I could tell they were talking to me, but I could not hear them at all," she said. "I could tell that they were speaking more loudly, but I could not understand what they were saying."
Her doctor recommended she see a surgeon at the University of Utah, who diagnosed her with a condition called Otosclerosis; it's a genetic hearing condition that affects the third hearing bone. The bone becomes fixed to the surrounding bone so that it cannot vibrate and transmit sound.
There was something with Simonsen's pregnancy and delivery that made the condition dramatically worse.
"We don't know why it happens more with pregnancy, but we have found a relation with, for whatever reason, in patients who already have the problem of hearing loss, it seems to be accelerated during pregnancy," said Dr. Kevin Wilson, and Otolaryngologist with the University of Utah.
In Simonsen's case, she did not know she had otosclerosis until she became pregnant, but the condition is more common than one would expect. As much as 10 percent of the population may suffer from the condition, but has not exhibited severe enough symptoms to warrant a diagnosis.
- Hearing loss may occur slowly at first but continue to get worse
- May hear better in noisy environments that quiet ones
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) may also occur
Signs and tests
- A hearing test (audiometry /audiology) may help determine the severity of hearing loss
- A special imaging test of the head called a temporal-bone CT may be used to rule out other causes of hearing loss
In addition, the condition is more common in young women. However, hearing can be improved with hearing aids or surgery.
"We lift up the ear drum and actually remove the third hearing bone and then drill a small hole in the inner ear and replace it with a prosthetic bone; a titanium piston prosthesis going from the second hearing bone to the inner ear and bypasses the problem," Dr. Wilson said.
There are risks with the surgery; however, it has a 90 percent success rate.
Simonsen opted for the operation, which allowed her to once again hear the sounds her children make.
"I can hear better than I've been able to hear in probably a decade," she described. "Even hearing her cry is wonderful because I know I can respond."