Nav: Home

Expert unravels disease that took the hearing of world-famous painter

April 28, 2017

Francisco Goya is the most important Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th century. He was famed for his sensitive portraits, and many historians argue that he was the first truly modern painter.

But he was not immune to tragedy.

In 1793, at the height of his artistic powers, Goya, then 46, came down with a severe, undiagnosed illness. He was bedridden for months, suffered from hallucinations and constant headaches, and could hardly walk. Eventually most of the symptoms went away, but his hearing never returned. Perhaps in response to this, his work became increasingly dark.

After examining a range of evidence about Goya's condition, Ronna Hertzano, a hearing expert at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), has developed a diagnosis. She thinks Goya likely suffered from an autoimmune disease called Susac's syndrome; a second possibility is syphilis. The main symptoms of Susac's are impaired brain function, as well as loss of vision, balance and hearing. While most of these symptoms usually disappear with time, patients can suffer from permanent hearing loss; syphilis can also lead to severe hearing loss. And in the 19th century, there was no treatment for either of these illnesses.

Dr. Hertzano will deliver her diagnosis at the 24th annual Historical Clinicopathological Conference, held Friday, April 28 at UM SOM. The conference is devoted to the diagnosis of disorders that afflicted historical figures; in the past, experts have focused on the diseases of luminaries such as Lenin, Darwin, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lincoln.

"This required real detective work," says Dr. Hertzano, an expert on the cellular and genetic mechanisms of hearing loss. "The question of Goya's ailment was a fascinating medical mystery. I think his case has several plausible possibilities."

She notes that the outcome today would have been completely different. Even with his hearing loss, Goya could have gotten cochlear implants, which would have enabled him to hear once again. "He would not have lived a deaf life after his disease," Dr. Hertzano said.

Also speaking at the conference will be Janice A. Tomlinson, director of special collections and museums at the University of Delaware. Dr. Tomlinson is an expert on Goya's art.
-end-
The conference was founded in 1995 by Philip A. Mackowiak, MD, Carolyn Frenkil and Selvin Passen History of Medicine Scholar-in-Residence at UM SOM. "This is a thought-provoking piece of medical detective work," says Dr. Mackowiak. "If Dr. Hertzano had been around to restore Goya's hearing in 1792, she would have had a profound effect on his life and possibly also on the character of his later works."

University of Maryland School of Medicine

Related Hearing Loss Articles:

Researchers listen to zebrafish to understand human hearing loss
Can a fish with a malformed jaw tell us something about hearing loss in mice and humans?
Postmenopausal hormone therapy associated with higher risk of hearing loss
Use of postmenopausal hormone therapy was associated with higher risk of hearing loss, and the risk tended to increase with longer duration of use.
Few researchers consider hearing loss in healthcare communication: Study
Of the 67 papers reviewed, only 16 (23.9 percent) included any mention of hearing loss.
Few studies consider hearing loss when assessing communication with physicians
Doctors believe that communication with those under their care is important, but most studies of communication between physicians and older adults do not mention that hearing loss may affect this interaction.
Study shows hearing tests miss common form of hearing loss
Traditional clinical hearing tests often fail to diagnose patients with a common form of inner ear damage that might otherwise be detected by more challenging behavioral tests, according to the findings of a University at Buffalo-led study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Drug treatment could combat hearing loss
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have discovered a combination of drugs that induces supporting cells in the ear to differentiate into hair cells, offering a potential new way to treat hearing loss.
Second cause of hidden hearing loss identified
Some people can pass a hearing test but have trouble understanding speech in a noisy environment.
U study: Law aiding infants at risk for hearing loss
A Utah law has led to increased early identification of infants with hearing loss due to a congenital infection, according to a new study by University of Utah and Utah Department of Health researchers.
MED-EL convenes global hearing researchers for age-related hearing loss workshop
Leading scientists and hearing experts from around the world will gather for a scientific workshop sponsored by hearing implant leader MED-EL.
Iron deficiency anemia associated with hearing loss
In a study published online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, Kathleen M.

Related Hearing Loss Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".