Hello to all our valued patients and friends! I hope you all are staying safe and healthy. Today I would like to take a moment to talk about sudden hearing losses. These hearing losses are a medical emergency and require urgent treatment. By knowing what steps to take if you experience a sudden hearing loss, your chances of recovery are greatly improved.
What is a sudden hearing loss (SSHL):
A sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) is a rapidly occurring hearing loss that affects the inner ear. It may occur in an instant or over the course of several days. People who have experienced an SSHL often notice it upon waking. SSHLs most often affect just one ear; however, they may affect both ears in some cases. SSHLs are estimated to occur in every one to six out of 5000 people each year. 90% of sudden hearing losses have no known cause. In addition to a decrease in hearing, some may feel that their ear is “plugged” or “full.” SSNHLs can also be accompanied by tinnitus (noise in the affected ear) and dizziness. Sudden hearing losses are diagnosed through a detailed case history and hearing testing.
What to do if you believe you have had a sudden hearing loss:
Due to the sensation that the ear is “plugged” or “needs to pop,” it is common to mistake a sudden hearing loss for fluid build-up in the middle ear space or Eustachian tube dysfunction. This mistake can even be made by physicians if the patient presents at a primary care or urgent care facility. Patients may be tempted to mistakenly wait for the “fluid” to resolve by itself. Unfortunately, SSHLs are a time-sensitive issue that require immediate treatment for the best chance of recovery. If you believe you may have had a sudden hearing loss, it is strongly recommended to go to your nearest emergency room or call your ear, nose, and throat physician for an immediate, urgent appointment. Be adamant with the scheduler that you must be seen as soon as possible. SSHLs are most commonly treated through corticosteroid medications. These can be taken orally or are injected through the eardrum directly into the middle ear space in some cases. In cases of sudden hearing losses, the sooner the corticosteroid can be administered, the more likely it will be for the hearing loss to be reversed or improved. Even after just two weeks, the likelihood of recovery decreases significantly.
What if the treatment doesn’t work?
Even with immediate care, there is a risk that the hearing loss will not be reversed. In those cases, the patient works with an audiologist to treat the hearing loss through technology. In cases where there is usable hearing remaining, a hearing aid may be fit to the patient. If no usable hearing remains, a CROS transmitter system or even a cochlear implant can help ease hearing and communication struggles.
Too long, didn’t read?
If there is one thing that I would like you to take away from this blog, it is to not wait if you notice a rapid change in hearing. If your friend, loved one, neighbor, or anyone else you may know mention experiencing this, encourage them to seek medical attention immediately. This can make all the difference in a person’s long-term hearing health.
Best wishes and stay safe, everyone!
Madilyn Guith, AuD, CCC-A
Doctor of Audiology