Did popping painkillers make Rush lose his hearing?

The drugs Limbaugh is rumored to have abused are known to cause sudden hearing loss. But his doctors insist there's a different diagnosis.

Topics:

When Rush Limbaugh announced two years ago that he had suddenly gone deaf, he was uncharacteristically circumspect about the possible cause. “There is a theory as to what’s happening,” Limbaugh told his listeners in October 2001, “but I’m going to keep that to myself. It’s not genetic. There’s something more going on than that.”

Was the “something more” Limbaugh’s abuse of painkillers?

The New York Daily News reported last week that Limbaugh is under investigation for buying “thousands of addictive pain killers from a black-market drug ring.” Relying heavily on a story that first appeared in the National Enquirer, the Daily News reported that Limbaugh’s former housekeeper claims to have supplied him with massive quantities of OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone between 1998 and 2002.

Lorcet — which, like Vicodin, is a mixture of hydrocodone and acetaminophen — has been linked to sudden and profound hearing loss in patients who misuse or abuse the drug. First in 1999 and then more forcefully in the summer of 2001, physicians at the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles warned doctors and consumers of a “possible correlation between permanent hearing loss” and hydrocodone-acetaminophen combinations such as Lorcet and Vicodin. The Los Angeles Times reported in September 2001 that doctors at House and other Southern California medical facilities had identified 48 patients who suffered hearing loss after taking exceptionally high doses of the drugs.

Coincidentally — or not — Limbaugh turned to the House Ear Institute after he began experiencing what doctors there called “rapidly progressive hearing loss” in May 2001. Limbaugh announced his hearing loss on Oct. 8, 2001, after listeners to his show began to notice that his voice had lost some of its usual basso profundo thunder. The news of Limbaugh’s hearing loss was greeted with something approaching mourning on the right; the White House expressed George W. Bush’s personal concern for Limbaugh and said that the president considered him a “national treasure.”

Three days later, doctors at House told reporters that they were treating Limbaugh for “hearing loss resulting from autoimmune inner ear disease,” or AIED. The doctors said that they based their diagnosis on Limbaugh’s “medical history and hearing tests.” However, they noted at the time that “Mr. Limbaugh does not display most of the symptoms associated with AIED.”



House physicians issued a statement late last week in which they stuck with their diagnosis of AIED, despite the surfacing of allegations that Limbaugh had abused one of the drugs House previously identified as causing hearing loss. “The AIED diagnosis has not changed, and the House Ear Clinic continues to consult Mr. Limbaugh regarding his treatment for this disorder, and to follow up with him regarding his cochlear implant,” they said.

In the statement, the House doctors said that hearing loss caused by an overdose of Vicodin-type drugs “usually occurs over a period of days,” while hearing loss caused by AIED typically occurs “over a period of several weeks to months.” Limbaugh’s hearing loss reportedly took several months, from May through September 2001.

But Dr. Gail Ishiyama, a UCLA neurotologist studying the mechanism that triggers hearing loss in Vicodin users, said that there is no real way to tell the difference between AIED and Vicodin-induced hearing loss — unless the patient confesses to drug abuse. “It can present very similarly,” she told Salon Monday, “and unless the patient tells you that they’re abusing the Vicodin or other pain medication, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

Ishiyama disagreed with House’s contention that hearing loss in drug cases happens faster than that in AIED cases. “Both typically are on the order of months, a few months or so,” she said. Ishiyama said that “the only difference” in how the two maladies present themselves is the patient’s history; if a patient denies abusing drugs, doctors “couldn’t really know” whether the patient suffered from AIED or drug-induced hearing loss.

“Patients don’t admit to the drug use, and it actually sounds like that was the case in his particular case,” Ishiyama said. “So many patients are reluctant to admit to their abuse even if they’re asked.” Ishiyama, who is conducting research under a grant from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, said it is unfortunate that patients frequently withhold information about drug abuse from their doctors because evidence shows that drug-induced hearing loss may be halted if the drug use is stopped in time.

When asked about the AIED diagnosis late last week, House spokeswoman Christa Spieth Nuber initially told Salon that Limbaugh underwent blood tests during his diagnosis and treatment at House, and that the tests did not reveal any signs of drug abuse. Minutes later, however, Spieth Nuber called back to say that she had discussed Limbaugh’s case with Dr. Jennifer Derebery, one of the physicians who had treated Limbaugh, and that Derebery told her that Limbaugh had not, in fact, been tested for “toxicity” related to drug use. She said her earlier statement to the contrary had been an error based on her own mistaken assumption about the way Limbaugh’s case would have been handled.

Spieth Nuber said a toxicity test was not necessary in Limbaugh’s case because the House doctors had already made their AIED diagnosis based on a full medical evaluation, Limbaugh’s medical history — as provided to them by his earlier doctors and by Limbaugh himself — and the relatively slow nature of his hearing loss.

Ironically, when Limbaugh made his announcement in October 2001, he told listeners that they “would not believe the medication that is flowing through me in an attempt to reverse this.” He said: “I’m popping pills [and] I’m shooting up stuff. I’ve never done stuff like this before.” The medication ultimately proved ineffective, and Limbaugh received a cochlear implant in 2001, reportedly restoring much of his hearing and allowing him to continue working.

Premiere Radio Networks, which distributes Limbaugh’s show, referred calls about his hearing loss to the House clinic. Meanwhile, Limbaugh has been circumspect about the allegations that he abused drugs — and silent altogether about any possible link between drug abuse and his hearing loss. On his radio show Monday, Limbaugh mentioned the drug-related allegations against him but offered no specific information.

“I am waiting to find out just exactly what I am facing legally, and until I know that, I’m not going to say anything — much less, I can’t,” Limbaugh told listeners Monday. “When such time comes, fear not, what there is to be known will be known and I will tell you. But until it is permissible and makes sense for me to tell you that, I can’t and I won’t.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>