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The Kiss of "Deaf"

By Dr. Terri Lightbody


Believe it or not, a simple act of affection, an innocent kiss, can cause permanent hearing loss. A number of cases are popping up where the patient has experienced a sudden one-sided (unilateral) hearing loss, sensitivity to sound, tinnitus, distortion and a feeling of fullness immediately after being kissed on an ear. It is believed that the kiss, if perfectly placed on the ear, creates enough suction that pulls on the tympanic membrane (ear drum), then the ossicular chain (middle ear bones) putting pressure on the stapes bone which in turn creates turbulence in the fluid of the inner ear. This potentially causes damage to the delicate structures inside the cochlea. This condition has become known as the “kiss of deaf” or the “cochlear ear-kiss injury”.

Most of the “kiss of deaf” patients exhibit similar patterns of hearing loss showing more hearing loss within the high frequency sounds i.e. “ch” and “sh”. This type of hearing loss causes the patient to hear speech as not clear or “muffled”. Most of the “ear-kiss” patients have to resort to using hearing aids to improve speech understanding and clarity.

A kiss to an infants ear can be more dangerous. Since children have smaller ear canals, they are understandably more likely to experience cochlear ear-kiss injury, due to a possible greater build up of pressure. If a child experiences this type of injury, they don’t or can’t report it. Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss in children isn’t usually recognized until years after the damage occurs, since children aren’t able to express themselves and the pain they might be feeling clearly enough to verbalize the severity of the injury.

Many things can cause a unilateral type of hearing loss i.e. injury to the ear from an accident, a sudden loud impulse noise, cotton swabs, extreme ear pressure, etc. Because of this, many doctors aren’t taking patients seriously who come to them with an injury from a ‘kiss’!

While there is currently no treatment or cure for the “kiss of deaf,” some treatments may help if administered within days of the damage. You should consult a Doctor of Audiology whenever a sudden drop or change in hearing occurs.

If there’s one thing we can take away from all of this, it’s steer clear of the ears when going in for a smooch, especially with babies.

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