Eight months ago, Miami artist Nicolle Cure woke up to find she had suddenly gone completely deaf in her right ear.
Her head was numb with an intense pressure. At the same time, Nicolle felt dizzy. She frequently fell down, bumped into furniture, and found herself unable to walk in a straight line. This balance issue was somehow related to her hearing loss, but she didn’t know the cause or if she would ever regain her hearing.
Then, Nicolle found the University of Miami Health System.
“Nicolle suffers from a condition called hydrops,” said Dr. Tricia Scaglione, a leading audiologist and director of the tinnitus program at the UHealth Ear Institute, part of the University of Miami Health System. Endolymphatic hydrops is a disorder of the inner ear that can “cause the individual to feel the sensation of spinning (called vertigo), a ringing or buzzing in the ear (called tinnitus), fluctuations in their hearing, as well as a fullness in the ear,” Dr. Scaglione explained. Nicolle is also experiencing hyperacusis, which is a sensitivity to sound.
Dr. Scaglione helped diagnose Nicolle’s condition in collaboration with UHealth ENT specialist Dr. Adrien Eshraghi and Dr. Simon Angeli, who provided a second opinion in this complex case.
To reduce the symptoms of this condition, Nicolle received medical management with Dr. Eshraghi, which helped to restore some of her hearing, and she continues to receive tinnitus and hyperacusis therapy with Dr. Scaglione. Soon Nicolle will be fitted with devices called combination units, which are worn on the ears. The devices produce a sound that will help improve Nicolle’s sensitivity to sound and noises in the ears. As her symptoms improve, the devices will be adjusted to also help with her hearing loss. At UHealth, Nicolle also began vestibular rehab, which has helped tremendously to restore her balance.
“I’m still in the journey,” Nicolle admits, “but I’m seeing a lot of progress.”
Dr. Scaglione said the cause of hearing and balance issues like Nicolle’s could be something as simple as a virus that attacks the inner ear. But, those experiencing a sudden loss of hearing or balance require ear exams and testing to rule out the presence of lesions on the inner ear nerves.
“Patients don’t always take unexpected changes in hearing seriously and don’t seek help right away,” Dr. Scaglione said. They may even assume their condition can’t be improved. “But, the first few days and weeks are critical to seek out expert care.”
Discovering the Colors of Sound
“What I’ve experienced is a disorder that’s hard to understand,” said Nicolle. “There are a lot of people who don’t know about or understand this disorder, including my own family members. So, I decided to do something to educate others.”
As a trained painter, Nicolle has always created visual art pieces inspired by many different events and experiences in her life. But when she suddenly lost part of her hearing and couldn’t walk a straight line, she found it almost impossible to continue her life’s passion and work.
“In the beginning, I couldn’t paint because I would get so dizzy,” she explained. “I became extremely depressed because I’m artist. It’s what I do.”
That’s when Nicolle ironically turned to sound to lift her creative spirit. She analyzed sound frequencies and the patterns they create and soon decided to replicate their energy and movement using ink and water on canvas, mimicking how sound travels.
“Once I found that inspiration, it helped me to change the way I saw my disorder,” she said.
“I used vibrant colors to create a positive message, but I didn't want people to think it was just abstract colors,” she said. “I explore the relationship between sound and life, encouraging the reflection on how we listen to our surroundings.”
The result is Nicolle’s latest collection, The Colors of Sound, which was showcased during Art Basel in Miami, alongside a description of her personal story of hearing loss and recovery and how that inspired her work. Nicolle is seeking other venues to display the collection in conjunction with hearing and balance awareness events.
“My goal is to raise awareness about hearing loss and vestibular disorders and continue to spread hope through art during my recovery journey.”
Click here to learn more about Nicolle Cure and her mission-driven artwork.
Blog post written by: Dana Kantrowitz