Oxford

Man cured of hearing his eyeballs move

  • 27 July 2011
  • From the section Oxford
Stephen Mabbutt
Stephen Mabbutt had experienced unusual symptoms for six years

A man with a medical condition which meant he heard his eyeballs move in their sockets has been cured.

Stephen Mabbutt, 57, from Charlton, near Banbury, also heard his own heart beating and was finding it increasingly difficult to hear the world around him.

Ear expert Richard Irving diagnosed superior canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS) and carried out the surgery.

Mr Mabbutt told the BBC: "It's made a big difference to my life. I feel a different person all round."

He first experienced symptoms six years ago, in the form of a dull ache in the side of his head.

Successive GPs treated him with nasal sprays and antibiotics, but his hearing deteriorated.

He then experienced new symptoms - loud noises caused dizziness and his vision pulsated to every rhythm of his speech.

"When I raised my voice I could hear it reverberating in my head and the vibrations made my vision vibrate.

"Eventually I could hear my heart beating and my eyes moving in their sockets. It was really distracting."

Rare condition

He was eventually referred to Martin Burton, a surgeon from the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital who helped establish the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group.

Mr Burton conducted a CT scan and noticed perforations inside the semicircular canals inside Mr Mabbutt's ear. He then brought it to the attention of Richard Irving at the Birmingham Ear Clinic.

Mr Irving diagnosed SCDS, a rare condition discovered by American surgeon Lloyd B Minor in 1995.

He said: "There may be an annual incidence of one in 500,000 a year in the UK population.

"Symptoms include hearing loss and balance problems, particularly provoked by loud noises or pressure changes in the head.

"I've had a patient who fell over whenever they burst out laughing.

"You hear all interior sounds of the body particularly loud.

"The actual muscles that move the eyes are connected to the bones of the skull and there is an element of friction as these muscles move. Some patients, as their eyes move from side to side, hear that friction movement of the muscle as a noise in their ear.

SCDS affects the semicircular canals in the ear (right) causing the body's interior sounds to be heard loudly

"It destroys their quality of life.

"The symptoms were so confusing that those of us in the medical profession just scratched our heads and didn't understand it until this was described."

The operation to cure the problem involved a 5cm (2in) incision behind the ear, making a channel through the bone to find the "balance organ" and using the patient's own bone to create a seal around the defect.

The results for Mr Mabbutt were life-changing.

He said: "I was just hoping and hoping somebody would put their finger on it at some point and tell me what was going on.

"It was getting me down not knowing what it was and whether or not it could be cured.

"It feels great now. I feel like I've got a new lease of life. I've got more energy and I feel brighter. It's an amazing difference."

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