Study: Hyperbaric therapy provides relief for hearing loss

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SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. (CBS) A new medical study is giving hope to some patients who experience sudden hearing loss.

This is how Grace Ann Pensiero is finally getting relief, breathing pure oxygen inside a pressurized chamber. The 47-year-old is undergoing hyperbaric therapy after waking up last month in pain and deaf in her right ear.

"I thought, honestly, I thought I had a brain tumor because of the symptoms of extreme nausea, extreme dizziness, unable to walk," Pensiero said.

Doctors diagnosed pensiero with a viral infection. She lost hearing -- and hope -- before visiting a specialist in hyperbaric medicine.

Doctor Owen O'Neill oversees the largest hyperbaric chamber in the northeast at Phelps Hospital in New York. Patients breathe compressed gas which pushes to and-a-half times more oxygen into the body's tissue, speeding up the healing process.

"Over the course of 20 to 30 treatments, we may be able to grow new small capillaries to make up for what the hearing apparatus has lost," Dr. O'Neil said.

A new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms hyperbaric therapy, combined with a steroid treatment, improves the likelihood that patients will recover some of their hearing.

Each treatment lasts 90 minutes. Typically, patients have to come here five days a week for four weeks.

Pensiero is already hearing improvements. "The first time I was able to hear the beep, I screamed and I said, 'I can hear it!'" she said.

The mother of three hopes continued treatment will fine tune her hearing completely.

Doctors say 90 percent of people who suffer mild hearing loss get better on their own. But if you are experiencing a significant loss, seek help immediately. Hyperbaric therapy is used to treat 13 other ailments.