I loved my career as a registered dental hygienist. It was very rewarding and I loved my patients.
After 22 years, the suction started bothering my ears. One day in 2008, I whipped the suction, known as the saliva ejector, out of a patient’s mouth and threw it in the trash.
I stopped using the suction and instead would have the patient spit. I started doing hand-scaling only. If a patient requested the high-pitched ultrasonic scaler called the Cavitron, I would deny them.
I put cotton rolls in my ears as crude earplugs. They didn’t work very well.
If I knew what was to come, I would have quit right then.
Instead, I was fired two years later. I think the patients were complaining about me.
I had burning and stinging pain in my ears. I went to doctors, ENTs and the Cleveland Clinic, but nobody knew what was wrong. I mentioned my noisy job but nobody put it together. Noise usually causes deafness, not pain.
One ENT told me I had refractive hearing, whatever that is. Finally, an audiologist told me I had hyperacusis.
I continued to worsen. Noise became increasingly painful. I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice. When driving in the rain, the raindrops hitting the windshield hurt me. I had burning ear pain even in a quiet setting.
My life turned upside down. I had to sell my house and find a cheaper condominium. My boyfriend was loud with a deep voice and his snoring just about killed me. I had to break up with him so he was free to go find someone normal.
My life is now very guarded. The activities I cannot do are much more than the things I can do out in the world.
It is difficult for me to venture out of my quiet home, let alone to socialize.
I am fortunate that my sister pulls me out of the house every day. My routine is either lap swimming or walking. I use Bose noise-canceling earbuds attached to an iPod and listen to very soft music on low to drown out the sounds of the world.
Still, my sister doesn’t get it. She asks, “When can you go to a concert with me?” My answer is, “Never.”
It is a challenge even to shop at the supermarket. The dings, dongs, beeps, boops and bells are loud and horrible. I try not to buy too much at a time so I can escape the scanner. I run away from people talking and laughing.
This wicked affliction is so isolating. I get jealous of people with normal ears.
I would rather lose my teeth than deal with this, and I am not one for pulling teeth. But if I had a choice, yes. I would trade every tooth in my head if I could cure my hyperacusis. This is so bad.
I am luckier than some because I am a mild case, and I do not suffer much from tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. But even a mild case of hyperacusis is severe. A noise injury sounds like no big deal, but it is devastating. It is hidden. We suffer alone.
I spent my career and my livelihood, which has now been cut short, concerned with dental health. We are taught to brush and floss our teeth, and to schedule regular hygiene appointments for cleaning — but nobody knows or cares about ears.