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NurseMelchi NurseMelchi (New Member) New Member

Studying with Hearing Loss and worse yet Chronic Tinnitus

Disabilities   (2,299 Views 6 Comments)
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So, a couple of years ago I woke up with vertigo. It wasn't alarming at first, but as the day drew on, I got to the point that I couldn't walk without stumbling or banging into walls, and I was havin trouble hearing. I went to the doctor and they said that I had an ear infection and gave me antibiotics... A week later, I was still having issues so they put me on a steroid. A week later, they said I needed to go to ENT. They gave me hearing tests, MRIs, a dizzy test, and some other stuff. Two years later, I still have dizzy spells (though not as severe), and I still have no idea why I can't hear; to top it off, I have tinnitus so loud that I can't hear, even out of the unaffected ear. I have finally resigned to the fact that it is permanent, and I need to get aid(s).

The problem I'm having is that now I don't know what to do as far as school is concerned. Do I tell them I'm having issues before I've been declared to have a disability? What about my job? I am a CNA on the cardiac unit (just recently) and I'm worried I won't be able to hear heart beats or take accurate BPs. I love my job, but I'm worried about my pts. I'm in Nursing school, and I didn't consider my hearing that bad till I started working in the hospital, which was after I was accepted the nursing school. Nursing is what I want to do, but it'd be nice to know how others manage.

Thanks in advance!

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It sounds as if you have Sudden Hearing Loss Syndrome -- which is what I experience in 1993 while I was in graduate school. (But of course, you need an otologist or good ENT to diagnose that by ruling out other possible conditions.) In the span of 10 seconds, while I was sitting in class one day ... my right inner ear suddenly died. It was as if a wave rolled over it and completely killed it. I lost 100% of my hearing and balance function on that side. I also developed chronic tinnitus that was very loud at first, but gradually diminished over a period of a couple of years. My balance also improved a bit over a period of several years.

I have continued my nursing career and I have met other nurses over the years who have similar conditions. But you need to take this seriously and make some tough decisions now if you want to be successful in school and in your long-term nursing career. I was lucky in that I already had a successful career when it happened to me. For someone at the beginning of their career, it will be more challenging and it may not be a challenge/risk you wish to take.

1. You need to get a good diagnosis. If it is truly generic "Sudden Hearing Loss Syndrome," then the chances are good that your unaffected ear will remain unaffected. How good is that ear? Will you be able to rely on it for the rest of your career? You can be a nurse with 1 good ear, but having 2 bad ears makes it nearly impossible. So you need to find out whether or not you can count on that unaffected ear staying healthy. And you will need to take good care of it.

2. How bad is your bad ear? Are you 100% deaf in that ear? Or do you still have some hearing that can be used? Mine is still completely deaf, so I don't wear any aids. I don't want to stress my remaining ear by piping extra sound into it (with a bi-cross aid) and I don't want the increased risk of getting an infection in my good ear by wearing a bi-cross aid. My right ear is gone, I need to do whatever I can to preserve my left.

3. The dizziness is a problem. I was a neonatal nurse -- but now do nursing staff education, research, and program management. If I were a staff nurse, I would need people to know that carrying babies is not a good idea for me. There would be a risk of stumbling and falling with a child in my arms. And the hospital (and I) would be liable if anything were to happen while I was carrying a child. So that is something I do not do when I help out on the unit. You need to think about things like that. How bad is your balance? Will you be able to safely do all the work that a beginner-level nursing job may require? That may limit your job choices.

4. How well can you understand people who speak with accents ... mumble ... have beards/mustaches ... wear a surgical mask? You will need to address those issues in your choice of jobs.

5. You need to tell your school (even though it might not be declared an official disability) and you will probably need to tell your future employers -- particularly if there are certain tasks that you might not be able to do well. If they don't understand why you can't do those things competently, it will hurt your job performance ratings. I had a friend with a similar hearing impairment who refused to tell anyone about it except me. She was amazed that I was so open about talking about it. She didn't tell -- and everyone looked down on her because they thought she was "weird" and not very good at her job. If they knew about her impairment, a few accommodations could have been made and she would have been much more liked and much more successful in her career. By not telling, she floundered alone and in silence.

I told my current employer after I had interviewed for the job. I let them see that I could function well in normal conversations and do the job I was interviewing for ... then told them and began the job with no secrets.

6. You need to hook up with services, support groups, etc. for those with hearing and balance impairments. There are ways to mask the sounds of tinnitus ... exercises to help improve your balance ... tips on how to handle conversations to improve your comprehension and participation ... etc. If you are not plugged into those resources, you need to get plugged in. Ask you ENT for recommendations and referrals as needed. One online group you might check out is the SayWhatClub (the SWC) -- a chat group for adults who have hearing problems, but who are not part of the deaf community. Most members are people who have lost or are losing hearing/balance as adults. SHHH ... is another group, "Self Help for the Hard of Hearing." I am not a member of either group, but used to be a member of the SWC. They helped me embrace my new hearing/balance impaired lifestyle and I helped others there for a while.

7. Almost forgot. The tinnitus may be the hardest of your disabilities to deal with. You need to be tough mentally to deal with that. Sound masking devices can only help so much. You may need to train your brain to screen out the extra sounds and that takes brain power, which will sap your energy levels -- meaning that you will have to cut back some of your activities to save your energy. You may also be able to identify factors which make the tinnitus worse -- and get them out of your life. For example, noisy environments or being out of doors in the wind. If you live a life of parties, noisy restaurants, surfing and other outdoor activities -- you need to understand that such activities may worsen your tinnitus. If you want to minimize your tinnitus, you may have to cut back on some of those activities and live a quieter lifestyle -- in quieter environments. Chemicals can also aggravate tinnitus -- NSAIDS (like aspirin, ibuprofin, napracin, etc.) and caffeine are two common culprits. Be prepared to give those up. Talk to your doctor about other medications and chemicals that can aggravate the condition and be prepared to give those up. Pay attention to when your tinnitus is better or worse than other times and identify those factors in your life.

In summary .. educate yourself thoroughly on your condition AND on your prognosis for the future. You need that knowledge to make wise, informed decisions about the possibilities and future challenges of attempting a nursing career with your particular set of circumstances. Access the resources for people with those types of disabilities to make sure you are taking advantage of all possible things that can help you lead a productive life with the disabilities that you have.

Good luck to you!

llg

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Thank you llg. I don't have balance issues so much, I get dizzy when I lay down and cock my head at an angle, but really rarely when I walk, and it isn't so bad that I've ever dropped anything. What you went through sounds exactly like what happened to me! I just started working nights, so I have been downing coffee, so that might explain my terrible tinnitus right now. I'll work on cutting it out. The worst part for me is the tinnitus, it drowns put a lot of things, so I'm looking into some help for that, and since my left ear still has some (not much) hearing, I'm going to talk to an otolaryngologist to see about hearing aids. I've actually just realized that humming in a low constant tone helps me control the bottom tone of my tinnitus. If I can take a few minutes to go "meditate" it makes at least that tone to disipate. Other than that it sounds sort of like a dial up computer in my head all the time. There are nurses out there with all sorts of hearing issues, including deaf, so I know I can do this.

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There are things that you can do to "help manage", the stethoscopes that are available today are just amazing!

From a personal experience I think that I cope quite well with my limited hearing, but it is important to acknowledge your limitations, and make other aware of your limitations, for example, I am not good at listening to lung or heart sounds, I acknowledge this, it is understood by my colleagues, and everything works.

Likewise in a code situation I can not scribe (except if I stand on a chair to read lips) however I can be a gopher, and I can do compressions. Once again, it is important to acknowledge and accept your limitations.

Despite being hard of hearing I think I make a fine nurse, it has it's challenges, but hey, nursing is challenging even for the hearing!

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Have you visited the Office of Students with Disabilities at your school? Such an important first step.

They can help guide you.

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I know this is an old post. I am dealing with pulsatile tinnitus in my right ear. It is not that bad but sometimes its annoying. I will be going into nursing school in the spring. I am wondering how did you cope with it during nursing school and after you graduated and started working. Has it gone away? Have you tried any strategies?

How did you make your stress more less. Sorry for the many questions I am dealing with this right now and I have so much anxiety and thinking I cant go forward with nursing school. Nursing school is hard already on top of that I have this stupid sound in my ear. How did you study? I hope you can give me some advice. Did this affect

you hearing heartbeats and using the stethoscope? I hope you will answer.

Edited by nikiiii123

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