Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) should always be treated as a medical emergency. This doesn’t mean you have to rush to the emergency room in the middle of the night, but rather that you should see your doctor within a day or two.
SSHL often happens unexpectedly and occurs more rapidly than sensorineural hearing loss. Also known as sudden deafness, it happens all at once or over a period of less than 3 days.
Individuals with sudden sensorineural hearing loss usually first notice it upon waking up in the morning. Others may notice a pop before they lose their hearing or may notice it when putting a earbud or headphone on the damaged and deafened ear.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the sensory organs of the inner ear and often affects only one ear. It can occur in both ears, however, this is thankfully very rare. SSHL can happen to people at any age, but most often affects adults in their late 40s and early 50s.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed by conducting a pure tone audiometry test, one of several variations of a hearing test. If the hearing test shows a loss of more than 30 decibels in three connected or adjacent frequencies, the hearing loss is diagnosed as SSHL. For context, hearing loss of 30 decibels would make a normal conversational speech sound like a whisper.
In most cases, the loss is idiopathic, meaning that the root cause of sudden sensorineural hearing loss is not known. About 10% of individuals diagnosed with SSHL have an identifiable cause.
Causes of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss may include:
- Head or Brain Trauma
- Neurological Disorders
- Autoimmune Diseases (one or both ears)
- Blood Circulations Issues
- Meniere’s Disease
- Abnormal Tissue Growth or Tumors
What are the symptoms of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
- Muffled or Faint Hearing
- Complete Loss of Hearing
- Fullness in the Ear
Can you recover from Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
SSHL should not be taken lightly. Immediately visiting a doctor for diagnosis and treatment of sudden sensorineural hearing loss can greatly increase chances of full or partial recovery of your hearing in your deafened ear.
Individuals with SSHL may sometimes put off seeing a doctor because they think their hearing loss is due to a sinus infection, allergies or other more common conditions. And although roughly 50% of people with SSHL recover some of their hearing spontaneously within a couple of weeks, they may still have permanent damage that can greatly increase the risk of other physical and mental health issues while reducing the overall quality of life.
Patients who only suffer a mild to moderate loss may be able to fully recover their hearing, however, some may only recover a percentage of their previous hearing level. The more severe drop in hearing ability due to SSHL, the worse the prognosis is for a full or partial recovery of hearing.
What are the best treatments to recover from Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Steroids are the most common treatment prescribed by medical professionals and can be taken orally or be injected directly into the middle ear in a simple and relatively painless manner. Steroids can help individuals suffering from SSHL by reducing inflammation and swelling. This is especially helpful in people who have diseases of the immune system, such as Cogan syndrome. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if your SSHL is caused by an infection.
In some cases, a doctor may recommend a hearing aid. The hearing aid is meant to amplify the frequencies where your hearing has been damaged. They may also recommend surgically inserting a cochlear implant into your ear. Cochlear implants do not completely restore hearing, but they can amplify sounds to a more normal hearing level.
As with SSHL, general hearing loss should not be an afterthought. Hearing loss is not just an inconvenience. There are many comorbidities associated with untreated hearing loss. They range from increased risk of falling and cardiovascular disease to depression and dementia. The physical and mental health issues can be devastating. Making sure you protect and maintain your hearing health can reduce the risk and increase your quality of life.
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