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Limbaugh's strange plight

Syndicated radio star Rush Limbaugh will stay on the air with technical aids and anti-arthritis medication as doctors continue to treat his sudden hearing loss.

During a press conference last week, attending specialist Dr. Antonio De La Cruz, of the House Ear Clinic and Institute in Los Angeles, called the radio host's inner-ear infection an "uncommon" autoimmune arthritic infection. De La Cruz said it is being treated with a combination of steroids and drugs to combat rheumatoid arthritis "in the hopes that we can reverse it."

Some response to treatment is hoped for in four to eight weeks, but De La Cruz said transplant surgery is a possibility if medication and hearing aids don't help. Limbaugh is wearing hearing aids on both ears while wearing headphones on-air.

His producers are providing audio cues about callers that he can pick up in his partly functional right ear. The cues are mostly adjectives—words like angry, for example—indicating the caller's mood, according to Kraig Kitchen, president and COO, Premiere Radio Networks. A computer screen, he said, also flashes corresponding color codes to convey callers' attitudes.

The conservative commentator disclosed his condition during his show last Monday, saying that he developed hearing loss last May. It has rendered him 100% deaf in one ear and with 80% loss in the other.

Kitchen emphasized Limbaugh's "commitment" to staying on-air and fulfilling his current contract, which runs through 2009. Last summer, Premiere signed him to syndication's richest contract: an eight-year deal worth a reported $250 million plus a $35 million signing bonus. His show airs on 600 stations and has 20 million listeners.