• A woman in China reported severely impaired hearing, coupled with vomiting and a ringing sound in her ears.
• Her physician diagnosed her with reverse-slope hearing loss (RSHL) when she realized that she couldn’t hear male voices.
• RSHL is a condition in which the patient is unable to hear low-pitched sounds.
Many women would likely find joy in being unable to hear catcalls and other undesirable things from men. However, this rather strange ear condition certainly isn’t a cause for celebration.
Hear’s the problem
A woman from Xiamen, China named Chen woke up one day and realized that she couldn’t hear her boyfriend. When her ears started ringing and she started vomiting, she consulted an ear specialist at Qianpu Hospital.
Her physician, Dr. Lin Xiaoqing, found that Chen was unable to hear a male patient, but could hear her with no problem. This helped her realize that her patient had a condition called reverse-slope hearing loss (RSHL), preventing her from hearing low-frequency sounds. Aside from male voices, a patient with RSHL would also have trouble hearing voices over the phone, thunder, the drone of home appliances, and approaching vehicles. Thus, the condition isn’t just annoying–it’s downright dangerous.
Humans can hear sounds thanks in part to vibrating, microscopic “hair cells” (or stereocilia) inside our ears. As these hair cells get damaged due to aging, injuries, or substance abuse, our hearing diminishes.
The ones in charge of high-frequency sounds are more fragile than low-pitch detectors. This is why it’s more common to hear (pun intended) about patients who lose the ability to detect high-pitched sounds. On an audiogram, this looks like a downward slope that starts at the upper-left corner. The graph for RSHL, on the other hand, runs in the opposite direction, which is how the condition got its name.
According to statistics from an audiology clinic in Georgia, there are only about 3,000 RSHL patients –one in every 12,000 individuals–in the United States and Canada.
Hear this out
There are a number of reasons why a patient would suffer from RSHL. The primary cause may be physical trauma, autoimmune disorders, blood vessel problems, genetic conditions, or even a pressure shift in ear fluid. However, medical experts say that it can be effectively treated if detected within 48 hours.
Meanwhile, Dr. Xiaoping believes that stress caused Chen’s condition, and that sufficient rest is enough for her to make a full recovery.
The World Health Organization estimates that around 466 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss–a number expected to double after the year 2050.
Cover photo: Adobe Stock
Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.