Sudden hearing loss can be incredibly alarming, particularly so if no distinct trauma or action appears to be the cause. Many times, people ignore this condition, hoping that it will resolve itself. After all, if no trauma caused sudden hearing loss then it’s just a fluke, right?
Unfortunately not! Sudden hearing loss can be a symptom of a much larger problem. And, in most cases, time is of the essence.
What exactly is Sudden Hearing Loss?
Most stories of hearing loss focus on congenital or degenerative conditions, the effects of which are irreversible. However, there is a much less widespread occurrence of sudden hearing loss, also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). Sudden hearing loss is categorized by the unexplained, rapid loss of hearing. For everyone keeping score, the technical threshold is hearing loss more than 30 decibels in three contiguous frequencies.
Sudden hearing loss can occur in an instant or over a period of a couple days. Oddly, ninety percent of the time, hearing loss only affects one ear. Even more strange is that it happens more frequently in the left ear. Tinnitus and vertigo can accompany this condition.
What are the causes of Sudden Hearing Loss?
There isn’t a consensus on why sudden hearing loss occurs, or at least, there is not one definitive cause. Sudden Hearing Loss is commonly attributed to a myriad of catalysts, such as
infections, inner ear problems, trauma, neurologic conditions, or circulatory issues. The attribution of Sudden Hearing Loss to a particular cause varies from patient to patient and the pathology is difficult to pin down.
How do you diagnose Sudden Hearing Loss?
When someone reports a sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, healthcare professionals begin with a thorough examination. One of the first places to look is for signs of infections throughout the body. Bloodwork is a must. A medical history will be taken and a list of current medications. Ototoxic medications, or medications that adversely affect hearing, are still fairly common, so healthcare professionals will first rule out if taking these or combining medications to have an ototoxic effect are causing Sudden Hearing Loss.
Of course, to reach a clear diagnosis a hearing test will have to be performed. A Pure Tone Audiometry is a hearing test that examines where sound is reaching within the ear. It could very well be that an obstruction, such as wax or fluid, is causing the sound information to be interrupted. In these cases, the obstruction is removed and most likely normal hearing will return.
However, if sound is reaching the ear but is not being processed, we can correctly assess that the Sudden Hearing Loss is the cause of a sensorineural deficit. This is why Sudden Hearing Loss is sometimes called Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss.
Ways to treat Sudden Hearing Loss
Because we don’t have one, singular cause for Sudden Hearing Loss, it is quite a difficult condition to treat. Treatments have run the gamut from antiviral medications, vasodilators, carbogen therapy or even no treatment at all. Currently, corticosteroid therapy is the reigning favorite of remedies. These steroids are usually prescribed in pill form. Less popular and far more controversial are steroid injections. While they are decidedly more uncomfortable than steroids in pill form, they haven’t been providing more successful and so are slowly falling by the wayside.
Why time is of the essence
For a favorable prognosis, someone experiencing Sudden Hearing Loss should seek immediate treatment. Conceivably, one should see a healthcare professional as soon as symptoms begin. However, the window of treatment seems able to stretch almost up to two weeks. It is within these two weeks that hearing can be regained spontaneously, as unexplained as it’s sudden absence. Somewhere between 32-79% of Sudden Hearing Loss reverts itself naturally and without treatment. That span of success stories is so wide because many cases in which Sudden Hearing Loss occurs but is recovered without treatment do not get reported.
Outside of those magic two weeks, odds of recovering previous hearing health declines abruptly. Younger patients are more likely to experience a full recovery. A few elements beyond time and age can factor in; recovery odds decline as severity of hearing loss increases or if the patient is also experiencing vertigo.
Visit Us at Lifestyle Hearing Solutions
Our team is experienced in treating hearing loss, providing comprehensive hearing exams and hearing aid fittings. If you are concerned about your hearing abilities, contact us today for a consultation.