Gail Schwartzman had her hearing damaged when her four-year old daughter planted a harmless kiss on mom's ear. The Hicksville, Long Island resident reports it was not the loudness from the kiss, but instead suction that left her with pain, decreased hearing and tinnitus (ringing in her ear).
After a year of various physician appointments, tests and exams, Ms. Schwartzman still did not have answers as to why the hearing loss occurred following her daughter's kiss. Frustrated she sought the care from Dr. Levi A. Reiter - Professor of Audiology at Hofstra University whom she had seen featured in a Newsday article.
A Case Study by Levi A. Reiter
In an interview with AudiologyOnline Dr. Reiter reports when Ms. Schwartzman visited him for the first time she presented hearing loss in the ear that was kissed, difficulty hearing on the phone, over sensitivity to loud sounds, dysacusis (distortion of sounds) and occasional facial twitching near her ear. Fortunately after a year, the tinnitus had resolved itself.
Dr. Reiter went on to explain another symptom she reported to him, "...she had another interesting symptom...ear flutter. Basically, whenever she would turn her head from side to side, it felt like something was loose inside her ear".
After extensive audiological testing, Dr. Reiter has concluded the most probable explanation to her symptoms is combined damage to a middle ear ligament called the stapedial ligament and to the outer hair cells of the inner ear.
An Isolated Case of Bad Luck?
Unfortunately, no. In fact, in an interview with Healthy Hearing, Dr. Reiter reports since this first case of what has now been labeled Reiter's Ear Kiss Syndrome (REKS) by Dr. Carolyn Smaka of AudiologyOnline, the media attention has brought many persons from across the US with similar cases to come forth. A kiss, followed by pain, followed by hearing loss.
Dr. Reiter is careful to point out that in all of the cases he has seen, it isn't the loudness of the kiss but instead the suction of the kiss that caused the damage.
Has this been going on for a long time and we just didn't notice the connection between hearing loss and an ear kiss?
By all logic, that would seem to be the case rather than isolated instances of REKS appearing within the space of a couple of years. Since kissing is a widespread show of affection in almost every culture, it's reasonable to assume that these occurrences have happened in the past. In fact, Dr. Reiter said he continues to receive calls from persons who feel they have hearing loss due to a kiss in the past and also audiologists who have seen patients in the past reporting this same scenario.
Not quite yet. Although Dr. Reiter feels he has a good understanding of the mechanisms involved. He continues to assess new patients reporting similar incidences and has future studies planned to investigate the effects from a kiss on the ear - specifically the effects of the suction. He has been measuring normal variations in both the loudness and pressure produced by kisses into artificial ear canals.
No More Kissing?
Ahh, the world would be much drearier without displays of affection, so in a word - "No." Kiss away.
However Dr. Reiter cautions, "My biggest concern as far as warning the public and getting this out is regarding newborns and infants. Mothers and fathers, and even sisters and brothers or grandparents, they love to smooch up that little baby, give him a whole kissing frenzy. And the ear canal of an infant is very small, so the pressure, that negative pressure that is applied to the ear canal is going to have a much greater impact than on an adult. I'm afraid there are infants out there who are experiencing this, but they can't say "Mommy, I can't hear in one ear," and the net result is that five years later, when they have a hearing test, no one will ever know to relate it to a kiss."
More study is underway to determine the extent and severity of REKS, as well as the degree to which it is found in the population. If you or someone you know has experienced hearing loss following a painful kiss near the ear, you are encouraged to contact Dr. Reiter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, enjoy that smooch. Just keep it away from the ear.