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UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


Information on the UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


“I had experienced so much trouble in getting some pupils to experiment with”…

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 27 March 2013

In the 1890s, a Belgian by the name of Dr. Hovent discovered that using a ‘bath’ of compressed air, that is a sealed chamber, he could ‘cure’ some forms of deafness. It seems probable that what he was doing was catching people with otitis media (glue ear) perhaps, or with some other obstruction in the eustachian and that the compressed air perhaps served to clear it, however Hovent says the eustachian tubes were clear in some cases (see below).

DR. HOVENT, of Brussels, has communicated to us an account of the case of a girl aged thirteen and a half years whom he had recently under his care. She had been gradually getting deaf since birth. The child was healthy in appearance, but suffered from sore-throats, which occurred, according to the mother’s statement, every fortnight. The deafness had partially cleared up under the energetic treatment of Dr. Bayer, of Brussels, who removed the tonsils and some post-nasal adenomata and frequently passed the Eustachian catheter upon the child, but the improvement was not maintained. Under the influence, however, of a regular course of compressed air-baths the hearing improved to a marked degree, as Dr. Hovent’s figures show. On Jan. 8tb, 1892, the ticking of a watch could be heard 7 centimetres away on each side, and on the 20th the ticking, presumably of the same watch, was audible at a distance of no less than 46 centimetres from either ear. The improvement in the left ear eventually equalled that in the light; but the daily notes show that at first the light ear improved more rapidly. As the child had been practically deaf from birth, she had received no auditory education, and her reports upon objective sounds were vitiated by her remembrance of subjective sounds. We agree with Dr. Hovent in considering that so remarkable and fortunate a circumstance as the cure of what may be termed almost congenital deafness by a course of treatment lasting under a fortnight ought to be put upon record, although experience would lead us to believe that the issue was exceptional.

The Lancet, Volume 142, Issue 3670, Page 1646, 30 December 1893Compressed air treatment 001

Click on images for larger size

At any rate, in 1897 Dr. W.R.Roe, headmaster of the Derby school, was sufficiently interested in Hovent’s work that he published the attached illustration and a short item about the process in Our Deaf and Dumb.

Below is the graph from Julian Hovent’s ‘Case Seven’ in his booklet (p.27). The boy was 15, “of a feeble constitution and lymphatico-nervous temperament.”  Aged one he had convulsions and a coma, diagnosed as meningitis. Aged seven to eight he had discharges from the ears and severe colds.  His parents were scrofulous or tuberculous.

Both tympanic membranes are somewhat congested and movable. The right one is slightly perforated near the extremity of the manubrium of the malleus.
Larynx and nose show nothing worthy of notice except a slight catarrhal rhinitis. Pharyngeal tonsils are enlarged. There is no obstruction of Eustachian tubes. […]My first idea was to refuse this patient as I could not hope to obtain a satisfactory result in deaf-muteness following meningitis. But he was so anxious to try the treatment and I had experienced so much trouble in getting some pupils to experiment with, that I decided to accept him (p.28)

The boy was not cured.

Below is one of Hovent’s graphs, showing how he used the ticking of a clock at different distances, in an attempt to make some scientific sense of the quality and quantity of a person’s hearing in an age before electronics.
Hovent graph 001

The Incurably Deaf, Our Deaf and Dumb, 1897 Vol 2 (5), p.83

Hovent, Julian J., A New treatment of the so-called incurably deaf people, Liege [no date but ca 1893]


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