Woman with Rare Condition Couldn’t Hear Male Voices

Faith Castro
January 13, 2019

The patient, who lives in the city of Xiamen in southeastern China, had also experienced ringing in her ears and vomiting the night before the incident. Instead of waking up with a newfound ability to hear women's thoughts, à la Mel Gibson (or Taraji P. Henson for 2019's gender-switch take on the film), you wake up having lost the ability to hear men, full stop. She then went straight to the hospital.

Dr. Lin Xiaoqing, a woman doctor who treated Ms Chen, said the patient was able to hear her when she spoke but couldn't hear a male patient.

Xiaoqing eventually diagnosed Chen with reverse-slope hearing loss, meaning she can only hear high frequencies. She chalked it up to being overworked and stressed, and didn't think much of it before going to sleep, hoping that a peaceful slumber would fix the problem.

The extremely unusual condition, which reportedly affects only about 3,000 people in the U.S. and Canada, causes patients to lose their ability to hear low-frequency sounds, including average male voices. Hong Kong doctors have officially ruled that her loss of hearing is from "low-frequency hearing loss".

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People with RHSL typically have no problem hearing high-frequency sounds, like voices of women and children, but they struggle to hear low-frequency noises, like vehicles, thunder, and voices over the phone. It is a rare condition that affects only 3,000 people in the United States and Canada and has been linked with conditions such as Wolfram Syndrome and Mondini dysplasia.

"She was able to hear me when I spoke to her, but when a young male patient walked in, she couldn't hear him at all" - Dr. Xiaoqing. That is just one in every 12,000 incidents of hearing loss.

Normally hard to diagnose, it can often go unnoticed.

Doctors say that stress could have resulted in the condition. In the days before she woke up with hearing loss, Chen reportedly had been working long days and not getting a sufficient amount of sleep.

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