I recently found this from Wikipedia:

The cause of Beethoven's deafness is unknown, but it has variously been attributed to typhus, auto-immune disorders (such as systemic lupus erythematosus), and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake. The explanation from Beethoven's autopsy was that he had a "distended inner ear", which developed lesions over time.

As someone who indulges in cold showers myself on a regular basis, I was slightly taken aback by the possibility that his loss of hearing may have been induced by 'his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake' - could this really be a cause of loss of hearing? If so, how does that work exactly?

  • 1
    Hi! There is no way for us to tell what happened to somebody who died centuries ago (or to diagnose a living person over the Internet, for that matter). Asking whether it is theoretically possible to get hearing loss from cold water is a valid question here, but asking if this is what happened to a random person isn't. So I changed your question instead of casting a close vote, while keeping the Bethoven reference to show where you got the inspiration for the question from.
    – rumtscho
    Jul 2, 2015 at 18:07
  • Beethoven had an autopsy that showed cirrhosis of the liver, a finding completely compatible with his known lifestyle (alcohol) and details of his final illness. Also, his cranium was thickened, and impinged on his auditory nerves. Paget disease of bone would produce such findings. See nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMbkrev58635 Jul 2, 2015 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


It is possible that hearing loss can be caused by cold water. Several different different types of benign growths can cause loss of hearing because they may block the ear canal. One of these types of growths are exotoses in the ear canal (aka Surfer's ear). Surfer's ear is caused by exposure to cold air or cold water. Odds are that frequent cold showers won't cause Surfer's ear, because usually the growth is caused by both cold air and cold water (doesn't always have to be cold, but it is much more likely for cold air and water to cause it than warm air and water). Extoses be treated through surgery to remove the growth (obviously this wasn't possible in the 18th and 19th century).

It is also possible that loss of hearing can be be caused by a condition known as Swimmer's ear which is the result of prolonged exposure of the ear to moisture and water. Things like swimming (hence the name) or routine showering can cause this, which means it may be possible for you to experience a sudden loss of hearing. This water doesn't have to be cold though. Swimmer's ear doesn't always cause loss of hearing and when it does, it is only temporary and can be treated with some medications and eardrops.

Exostosis of the external auditory canal

Hearing Loss Causes

Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer's Ear Directory


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