Hearing loss reversed thanks to fast action and quality care

Imagine waking up to discover you suddenly can’t hear out of one ear. That’s exactly what happened one morning to Laura Barboza, a Kaiser Permanente member from Hoodsport, Washington.

“I could hear my own breathing in my left ear, but in my right ear there was nothing,” Barboza said. “I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t feel anything. It was like my ear was dead.”

She called her husband, Anthony, to the room. Did she look okay? Was one side of her face sagging? Was she having a stroke? Anthony said she looked fine. But they both agreed she needed prompt medical attention.

They went to Urgent Care at Kaiser Permanente Olympia Medical Center. Laura Wheeler, PA-C, examined Barboza’s ears and didn’t see any sign of infection or fluid. Her ears looked normal. But clearly, something wasn’t right.

Wheeler immediately reached out to the Ear, Nose, and Throat and Audiology teams at the medical center to determine the best course of action. That call started a chain of events that likely prevented permanent damage to Barboza’s hearing.

Mary Aesoph, AuD, saw Barboza next. Dr. Aesoph, an audiologist, performed a hearing test, which revealed a moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss — hearing loss that originated at the nerve — in her right ear. Following the test, Barboza met with Carl Myers, MD, of the Ear, Nose, and Throat Department. He prescribed a 9-day course of prednisone, an oral steroid.

Barboza noticed a change after just one dose. Before starting prednisone, she said, sound seemed to come from “behind” her. She even asked her husband if there were people speaking behind her. But the next day, after the first dose of medication, sound was “in front” of her again. A definite improvement.

And she kept improving. Two weeks later, a follow-up hearing test showed a nearly complete recovery. The best possible outcome.

What made Barboza’s hearing loss case unique?

Dr. Aesoph explained: “If a patient experiences a sudden sensorineural hearing loss, we need to start prednisone quickly to recover their hearing. Chances of recovery diminish significantly with time, and hearing could be lost entirely. Because Laura Wheeler, the PA, reached out to the specialists right away, we were able to restore Laura’s hearing. She’s incredibly happy with the outcome — and so are we!”

“I’m so pleased,” said Barboza, a Kaiser Permanente member since the 1980s. “I’m thankful Laura called the Ear, Nose, and Throat and Audiology folks right away. I’m impressed the audiologist came to me in Urgent Care, and that she and Dr. Myers fit me in right away. I didn’t even have an appointment.”

Barboza’s experience is a great example of how coordinated, connected care can make all the difference.

“It feels great to be part of a team that’s changing patient outcomes by working together to create better outcomes,” Dr. Aesoph said. “This is why I love working for Kaiser Permanente.”

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