The Gift of Hearing

by Sujana S. Chandrasekhar MD • Dr. C’s Ear Blog, Featured

Dear readers,

It turns out I chose a very emotionally rewarding profession.

The other day I received a letter from a patient of mine who had had a cochlear implant. She was writing to tell me that she was blowing out the 5th anniversary candles of her surgery – her ‘rebirth’ as a hearing person. Another patient of mine, who became progressively deaf with each pregnancy, told me that she was able to hear her son’s voice for the first time ever after receiving her cochlear implant when her son was 8 years old! Her implant surgery was done nearly 10 years ago, and she loves dancing to Christmas music. I saw a little boy in the office whom I implanted several months ago. It’s a good thing I keep tissue boxes in the rooms, since his new amazing speech and conversation brought tears of joy to my eyes!

Cochlear implants are for patients who have severe to profound hearing loss in both ears, and cannot benefit from hearing aids. Until relatively recently, those patients had no chance of entering the hearing world. They either joined the Deaf world and became fluent in sign language, and/or they became great face readers and used a variety of different visual cues in order to participate in Hearing life. Then, in the 1960s, two brilliant and forward thinking pioneers of hearing restoration, Dr. Graeme Clarke in Australia and Dr. William House in Los Angeles, CA, decided to change that. Apparently they were almost considered heretics at the beginning – imagine thinking you could stick an electrode in the inner ear and the patient would hear! – but those initial naysayers were proven wrong. About 100,000 people around the world have received cochlear implants, enabling these profoundly deaf people to hear.

But it’s not just the miracle of cochlear implants that I can use to help people to hear.

There’s a disease called otosclerosis that causes the third tiny bone in the middle ear (the stapes or stirrup) not to move properly. Most of these patients can benefit from stapedectomy surgery that restores normal middle ear bone functions and restores hearing over 95% of the time. This is, I must say, one of the most fun and challenging operations that I perform. In under 45 minutes, I can take someone from being hearing-impaired to normal hearing! I had one patient undergo stapes surgery in October one year, and that year for the holidays she was inundated with hearing-themed presents – an ipod, CDs, etc. A number of my stapes surgery patients have commented that they didn’t realize how much they were missing due to their hearing loss, until after their surgeries!

There’s something called Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (ISSHL or SSNHL) which is a sudden loss of nerve hearing in one or (rarely) both ears with no clear cause. You might imagine how devastating this would be to someone. I became very interested in the treatment of this problem many years ago, after reading Dr. Lorne Parnes of Canada’s research on the subject. Since you have to be an expert at something, I guess this is one of my claims to fame…. Over the past decade or so, a number of physicians (myself included) have seen that we can restore full or at least partial hearing in a large percentage of patients with SSNHL if we treat them aggressively early on. The treatment involves at least oral steroids, and often an injection of steroids into the affected ear, and may be some other medications. I consider SSNHL a true otologic (ear-related) emergency and am really aggressive about treating it. It is really an amazing feeling to have helped someone regain this vital sense!

There are other things that are done for hearing restoration – surgical, medical, and device-related. You can read about them within my website under the Symptoms tab.

The more I do this, the more I realize how important a gift hearing is. So, as this year winds down, I urge you to protect your hearing. Avoid loud noise exposure: wear ear plugs if you’re going to a concert or using power tools. If you use a personal music device such as an ipod, turn the bass up and the volume down. You’ll still enjoy the vibrations of the music without hurting your delicate inner ear hair cells. Avoid toxins that can cause or increase hearing loss, such as many illegal drugs as well as caffeine and nicotine. Antioxidants, such as are found in fresh vegetables and at health food stores, are hearing-protective. Exercise well – it helps your ears too!

Please accept my wishes for a melodious holiday season and a new year filled with health and happiness.


Sujana Chandrasekhar, MD

6 Responses to “The Gift of Hearing”

  1. Sahana

    Happy holidays to you too, Dr. C! I love your blog. 🙂

  2. Biju Damodaran

    After having had SSNHL, I was looking for perspectives different from “wait and watch after a 10 day oral prednisone treatment”. Your blog throws a fresh perspective on the treatment. Also anyone who is affected knows how desperate one gets, and would want to aggressively pursue the latest medical advances. Your blog exactly reflects your empathy, and for that wishing you the very best..


    I am doing some internet research for a friend who is having age-related hearing loss.

    Some results so far point to a lack of exercise as a aggravator. Aerobic exercise stretches the blood vessels open. I beleive that normal blood flow and pressure is vital to the inner ear. Other vasodilators are nitroglycerin, Slo-Niacin, herbal cayenne pepper, and raw garlic.

    Some claim that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy improves hearing. HBOT has been used for stroke up to 8 years after the event, as well as Alzheimers.

    The Army has been using anti-oxidants and some vitamins to try to restore hearing after loss due to a loud sound. The big one is glutathione, which is best obtained by taking NAC or N-Acetyl Cysteine. Others are C, E, zinc, folic acid, R-Lipoic acid.

    Finally ordinary Apple Cider Vinegar will assist the body to manage calcium which may have deposited in the tiny ear bones, causing a kind of arthritis.

    Xylitol and garlic are effective in killing fungus and nano-bacteria which may have attacked the inner ear or the tiny ear bones, as are some of the statins, such as Nystatin. Stopping eating all sugar and starch might starve the little fungus and bacteria to death and get rid of them.

  4. Jessicah Woods

    As what as the noise assessment team advised to people, whenever you’re using headset in your music player, you should not put the volume to its maximum level to prevent damaging our ears. I do remember their last piece of advice is that playing music in your car using a CD player in a moderate volume level is much better rather than using a headset while driving.

  5. Lalji Mepani

    hello DR Sujana good morning I lalji mepani (male) 45 yrs of age of lndian present ly residin in Tanzania Africa i have ears profound bilateral SNHL presntly I am using hearing aids for both ears I think I developed this hearing loss because of ototoxic medicine and on construction site by some high range noise fo ototxic medicine I am frequent sufferer of bronchtis for that I often need to take antibiotics and than paracetamol to encounter weakness what possible cure available for this type of ailments pl advise me how I can be a with normal hearing …Thanks

    • Sujana S. Chandrasekhar MD

      It sounds like you might benefit from cochlear implants. To find a center in Africa, please go on the websites of the major cochlear implant companies (Cochlear, MedEl, Advanced Bionics). I am happy to see you if you will be traveling to NYC. 212-249-3232.