Firefighter Steve Mintern became completely deaf overnight
The firefighter, 50, only realised something was amiss when he saw that his wife Tina was speaking to him but he couldn’t hear what she was saying.
“I was devastated,” says the dad of Jack, 20, and Lucy, 18, from Reading, Berkshire.
“I clung to the hope it was some sort of infection and that a trip to the doctor’s would make everything normal again.”
He booked an emergency appointment with his GP who initially reassured him his hearing loss might be a temporary problem caused by ear wax or an infection and referred him to the audiology department of the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
But then came the bombshell.
Things I used to take for granted, such as answering the phone and watching television, became a real issue
“The consultant called us in to get the test results,” he says.
“They said my hearing loss was permanent and told us to pop along the corridor to have moulds taken for hearing aids.
“Suddenly it all became very real.
“My wife got upset and we were both trying to digest this life-changing news.
“I was worried about what the future would hold for me.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or sudden deafness, affects thousands of Britons each year
“My first thought was whether I would have to leave the fire service after nearly 20 years.”
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or sudden deafness, affects thousands of Britons each year and can occur without warning.
It happens when tiny hair cells in the tube between the inner ear and the brain are damaged.
Movement of these hair cells, triggered by vibrations, produces electrical signals that travel along the auditory nerve to the brain, allowing us to hear sounds.
Sudden permanent hearing loss can be caused by a blood clot or thrombosis in the cochlear artery, or damage from loud noises such as an explosion.
Hearing loss happens when hair cells in the tube between the inner ear and the brain are damaged
It can also be triggered by a virus such as a cold, which goes on to attack the ear, damaging blood vessels and the cochlea, or a bacterial infection can be to blame.
In Steve’s case, doctors were unable to say for sure what caused his deafness.
Audiologist Gemma Twitchen, of charity Action On Hearing Loss, says: “Many people put off seeking help for sudden hearing loss as they put it down to wax, cold or an infection.
“It should be treated as a medical emergency as a delay can decrease the effectiveness of treatment.
“If you suddenly experience hearing loss it is important to seek immediate help with your GP to rule out an underlying cause, they should refer you urgently to an ear, nose and throat specialist for further investigation if required.”
Earlier this year Steve ran the London Marathon in aid of Action On Hearing Loss
Losing his hearing suddenly was a traumatic experience for Steve and he says it took months for him to come to terms with his disability.
“Holding a conversation with anyone was nearly impossible.
“Things I used to take for granted, such as answering the phone and watching television, became a real issue.
“I began to feel very withdrawn and isolated because it was difficult to communicate with anyone.”
But Steve was determined to return to work and soon after he had his hearing aids fitted he was back serving as a firefighter.
Delaying seeking help for sudden hearing loss can decrease the effectiveness of treatment
“Because I was one of the first firefighters in the country to be a double hearing aid-wearer there were no policies in place for me,” he explains.
“After a series of tests, the Royal Berkshire Fire Service decided I was fit for duty and I could go back to work.
“I was extremely nervous because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue my career in the fire service but, thankfully, being a firefighter means you’re part of a team that supports you no matter what.”
Unfortunately not all employers are as supportive.
According to a report by Action On Hearing Loss, 41 per cent of those who were no longer working said the reason they retired early was related to their hearing loss.
And more than half of business leaders agreed that there is a lack of support or advice available for bosses about employing someone with hearing loss.
Soon after he had his hearing aids fitted, Steve was back serving as a firefighter
But Steve says: “Returning to work has been the best form of rehab I could have had.
“I never wanted my hearing loss to be a life sentence and being back at work helps me feel like I’m back to my old self again.”
Earlier this year Steve ran the London Marathon in aid of Action On Hearing Loss, which is funding research into treating sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
Studies are focusing on finding new ways of getting hearing-saving drugs into the cochlea.
Many business leaders say there is a lack of advice about employing someone with hearing loss
If successful, they could be used to deliver a wide range of therapeutics to the inner ear to treat many different types of hearing loss.
Steve adds: “It felt amazing to cross the finishing line of the marathon.
Reaching the end showed me you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
● If you would like to help fund cures for hearing loss, call Action On Hearing Loss on 033 3320 1733 or to donate £5, text Hear12 to 70070.