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Woman wakes up with rare condition that prevents her from hearing men’s voices

A rare condition called reverse-slope hearing loss makes the sufferer unable to hear low frequencies, including most men’s voices.

Ms Chen from Xiamen on China’s east coast woke to find she couldn’t hear her boyfriend talking. The previous evening she had reportedly experienced nausea and ringing in her ears.

Dr Lin Xiaoqing diagnosed Ms Chen with reverse-slope hearing loss after examining her at Qianpu Hospital the following day. Reverse-slope hearing loss exhibits nearly the opposite symptoms to more common forms of hearing loss where higher frequencies cause more trouble. Only one in 12,000 who suffer from hearing have this very rare condition.

For those with reverse-slope hearing loss, low sounds become inaudible, like cars, the hum of a fridge, most men’s voices and some vowel sounds. Meanwhile, higher frequencies like most women’s voices, phones ringing, consonant sounds or ticking clocks are completely audible.

In many cases, the condition is inherited. When acquired genetically and experienced from birth, the condition isn’t able to be treated. However, sudden hearing loss like Ms Chen’s does have some treatment options, including specially programmed digital hearing aids.

A hand holds several different hearing aids and a 1 euro coin for size comparison.

Hearing aids are one avenue of treatment for some types of reverse-slope hearing loss.

Sudden onset reverse-slope hearing loss can be the result of diseases or infections that damage the hair cells in the ear, or conditions that cause pressure change such as general anaesthesia or intracranial hypertension.

Dr Xiaoging suspects stress to be a contributing factor to Ms Chen’s condition. She suggested that working late hours and putting the body under a lot of pressure could certainly have contributed to Ms Chens sudden reverse-slope hearing loss.

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