Hearing Problems Continue for Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

A new study shows that follow-up care is needed.

AP Photo

AP Photo

After the Boston Marathon bombings, more than 100 patients were evaluated for blast-related ear injuries, according to Massachusetts Eye and Ear. Ninety-four of those injured individuals elected to enroll in a prospective cohort, eight-institution study through Harvard Catalyst—the clinical and translational science center—that began just after the bombings in April 2013.

The study’s findings will be reported in the December 2014 issue of the journal Otology & Neurotology and are available online now.

“The purpose of this report is describe the burden of otologic injury following the Boston Marathon Bombings and to understand how otologic trauma has affected patients’ quality of life,” said lead author Aaron Kyle Remenschneider, MD, who was Mass. Eye and Ear’s chief resident at the time of the bombings and cared for many of the victims.

According to the study:

Seventy-nine patients had initial audiograms available for review that revealed conductive, sensorineural or mixed hearing losses. Ninety percent of hospitalized patients suffered ruptured eardrums. Those who were closest to the blasts and who had other significant injuries also experienced ruptured eardrums. Twenty-one non-healing ear drum perforations were surgically repaired with closure of the perforation in all but two.

“Of the 94 patients that enrolled, only 7 percent had any otologic symptoms prior to the blasts,” said Alicia Quesnel, M.D., senior author and otologic surgeon at Mass. Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, who continues to provide care for these patients. “All patients evaluated reported hearing loss or tinnitus.”

In September, through funding from the One Fund Boston, the One Fund Center was created in order to serve patients who have ongoing needs including tinnitus and other hearing-related problems; mental health problems, including PTSD and anxiety; and traumatic brain injury and its associated symptoms. Mass. Eye and Ear will coordinate the hearing loss and tinnitus care, which will involve, reps say, a combination of hearing testing, medication, acupuncture, and stress management techniques.

“Hearing, tinnitus and dizziness-related quality of life was found to be impaired in these patients,” Dr. Quesnel said. “Our conclusion is that blast-related ear injuries constitute a major source of ongoing morbidity following the bombings. Patient symptoms continue to evolve and many patients have ‘hidden hearing loss,’ which may not be apparent on routine hearing tests. There is a definite need for long-term follow-up assessments to ensure that patients receive appropriate testing and treatment.”