What are the Causes? What are the Cures?

What are the causes of these obstructions [in the Eustachian tube & auditory nerves]? Various traumas, parasites or foreign bodies introduced by mistake, unstable fluids, effects of climate or food, and of age…

What are the cures? none when deafness had lasted for more than two years; the doctors were honest and declared it incurable. Otherwise they used the basic treatments for all diseases: purgatives, emetics, the inevitable bloodletting and diets which were prescribe until the 19th century. More or less long and varied cures included plasters, fumigations, instillations,  lozenges, and potions. Sometimes rather quaint advice slips in: to get the worm out of the ear, a piece of apple should be applied against the outer ear, and the work can’t resist it; in the case of a stray spider, a flea will work likewise. Surgical operations were carried out, but fortunately, only on a limited basis: the outer ear was incised to free the auditory duct and tumors were removed by various techniques. In case of some discharges, the liquids were sucked up with a cannula, or the extremity was heated to induce evaporation. Music therapy and acoustical trumpets complete the list of treatments, but they were less developed.

-Aude de Saint-Loup, “Images of the Deaf in Medieval Western Europe,” in Looking Back: A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and their Sign Languages. Eds. R. Fischer & H. Lane (Hamburg, Germany: Signum Verlag, 1993), 383.

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