Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn Germany in 1770 and died in Austria in 1827. His 57 years of life had a major influence on the music industry as he was a well respected composer and pianist.
What makes his music even more interesting is the fact that by the age of 45 he was completely deaf yet his career continued to flourish and he continued to compose and play, having to be turned around to see when he received a round of applause as he could no longer hear it.
When Did Beethoven Start To Go Deaf?
Beethoven first noticed problems with his hearing in 1798 when he was just 28 years old before finally going deaf in approximately 1815. He also had several other conditions including chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, depression, alcohol abuse, respiratory problems, joint pain, eye inflammation, and cirrhosis of the liver, the latter of which was what is thought to have been his cause of death following his autopsy.
A definite answer as to what caused Beethoven to go deaf has never been reached, even now more than 200 years later. However, there are many different theories surrounding this unsolved medical mystery. These theories are as follows:
Tertiary syphilis is a late stage of syphilis which is a bacterial infection, usually passed on through an exchanging of bodily fluids. By the time that it reaches tertiary stage syphilis is no longer contagious but it would be affecting Beethoven’’s organs, and could even prove fatal.
The most well known symptoms of tertiary syphilis include, problems controlling muscle movement, numbness, vision problems (even blindness) and dementia. Many specialists believe that Beethoven had congenital syphilis which was passed down from his father.
If this theory is correct and he did have tertiary syphilis then there is a good chance that this was at least a factor in causing him to go deaf as the brain and eyes are closely connected to the ears and clearly syphilis affects both of these by causing blindness and dementia. So, there is no logical reason that in the later stages it couldn’t also cause deafness.
Heavy Metal Poisoning
Beethoven also suffered from lead poisoning which some people believe was the cause of his deafness. Lead poisoning can manifest itself in many ways, in adults these can include high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, difficulties with memory or concentration, frequent Headaches, abdominal pain, mood disorders and fertility issues.
However, interestingly hearing loss is a common symptom of lead poisoning in children and there is no reason that this could not also affect adults. Just how Beethoven contracted lead poisoning is not certain however, speculators suggest that as he drank a lot of red wine he may have got it from frequent use of a wine goblet.
An alternative explanation is that at this time many medical treatments used heavy metals and due to the fact that Beethoven had a lot of medical issues this could have been the cause for him contracting lead poisoning.
It is widely believed that Beethoven had a specific form of immunopathic disease known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. He had scarring on his face which is one of the largest indicators of this disease.
Over recent years studies have shown that Systemic Lupus Erythematosus can cause damage to the inner ear structure, which in turn, can cause hearing loss. So, it is becoming more and more widely speculated that this could have been the cause of Beethoven’s hearing loss.
Typhus Fever is spread by lice and fleas and is usually caught in overcrowded places such as hostels. Beethoven is said to have had terrible typhus at one point in his life which many argue to be the cause of his deafness.
It is now believed that one third of people with scrub typhus develop hearing loss which suggests that this theory could be the most accurate of all. However, it is not known whether Beethoven had scrub, epidemic or endemic typhus and the later two would be much less likely to result in hearing loss.
Sarcoidosis is the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells and this can occur in any body part. Hearing loss is a rare complication of systemic sarcoidosis and only affects 1%-8% of patients, however it is not impossible that Beethoven was one of those unlucky few.
It is only suspected that he suffered with the disease as it wasnt described until 1869, more than 40 years after his death however, his symptoms at the time align with what we now know to be this disease.
One of the most well respected theories surrounding Beethoven’s hearing loss is that it was caused by Paget’s disease. This is because it is widely believed that the lack of hearing was caused by compression of the eighth cranial nerve which is associated with Paget’s disease because it is a disease of the bone which disrupts the normal bone renewal cycle.
It is impossible to know for certain whether or not Beethoven had Paget’s disease as it was not discovered until 1877, 60 years after the composer’s death however, such a diagnosis would explain many of the symptoms that he struggled with throughout his life.
Reaching a final conclusion as to why Beethoven went deaf is impossible as this was over 200 years ago. In Beethoven’s lifetime the healthcare industry was not very well developed so diagnoses were a lot more vague and hard to come by.
Therefore, definite reasons for Beethoven’s struggles including his hearing loss were never found and historical documents are not clear enough for us to draw definite conclusions this long after his death.
However, many professionals have come forward with their theories as to what happened to Beethoven’s hearing and these include the above suggestions such as Paget’s disease, Lupus and heavy metal poisoning. It is also possible that his deafness was caused by a combination of some of the above theories which could have had a gradual impact on his hearing.