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September 20, 1971

Beethoven's Deafness

JAMA. 1971;217(12):1697. doi:10.1001/jama.1971.03190120063013

Neither the practice nor the science of medicine, nor for that matter medical history, would be perceptibly affected by the knowledge or ignorance of what caused Beethoven's deafness. Nevertheless, the mystery of this retrospective diagnosis has held the interest of many investigators. The interest continues to the present day, as evidenced by the recent publication of two conflicting viewpoints on the subject within one month of each other.1,2

Concurring with most otologists who have written about Beethoven's deafness, Larkin1 favors the diagnosis of otosclerosis. The disease which started when the composer was 27 years old followed a characteristic pattern with severe tinnitus, early loss of higher frequencies, and gradual progression to complete loss of hearing in 15 years. Associated with this disability were frequent infections, colitis, rheumatism, splenomegaly, chronic pancreatitis and chronic hepatitis which progressed to liver failure and death. The conglomerate of these afflictions suggests, in Larkin's