Rare condition makes woman unable to hear men — and stress may be to blame

The internet is losing it over the story of a woman in China who can only hear high-frequencies, and therefore has trouble hearing men. Some say stress may be to blame. (Photo: Getty Images/Toa55)

A woman in China is making waves on the internet this week after a story in the Daily Mail revealed that she’s developed a rare type of hearing loss in which she can no longer hear men. The woman, who is going only by her surname Chen, reportedly went to the Qianpu Hospital to meet with a specialist who discovered the unusual predicament.

At the hospital, she told doctors she had gone to sleep with “nausea and ringing in her ears,” and had risen the next morning to find that she was unable to hear her boyfriend speak. At the hospital, it quickly became clear that she was able to hear the female physicians, but not the male ones, which led to a diagnosis of low-frequency hearing loss — technically known as “reverse-slope hearing loss.”

“She was able to hear me when I spoke to her,” Lin Xiaoqing, MD, the ear, nose, and throat specialist who treated Chen told the Daily Mail. “But when a young male patient walked in, she couldn’t hear him at all.”

The headline sparked many humor-filled reactions on Twitter, with some claiming they were “jealous” and others playfully asking how they could develop the same thing. “Doctors will call it hearing loss, I call it evolution,” wrote one person on Twitter. “A blessing,” added another.


But while in theory it may seem to some like an enticing concept, as Kaeli Swift, PhD, noted on Twitter, the condition is no laughing matter. According to audiologyhears.com, reverse slope hearing loss (or RSHL) derives its name from the fact that low frequencies are affected but not high ones. “The graph starts in the lower-left-hand corner and slopes upward steeply,” Audiology Hears writes.

The site says an estimated 3,000 people in the U.S. are affected — so just one out of every 12,000 cases of hearing loss. While genetics seem to play a major role in who has the condition, inflammation seems to contribute as well. In Chen’s case, RSHL was preceded by an extremely stressful period — which her doctor says may have contributed.

“Dr. Xiaoqing believes fatigue and the added stress of long days may have contributed to the condition,” the Daily Mail writes. RSHL can be treated using a hearing aide — and should be. Aside from being unable to hear the low-frequency voices of men, those suffering from the condition may not be able to hear things like cars driving by, which could put them in danger.

Hopefully Chen is able to find one that works for her. Either way, thanks to others coming forward on Twitter, now she’ll know she’s not alone. In a thread on Twitter, a user named Nayook shared the experience of living with the condition — which she said isn’t very fun after all. “Jokes like ‘I wish I had that’… are very funny when you are not actually #deaf.”

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