Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden hearing loss needs immediate attention


Recently, I have evaluated several people who experienced sudden hearing loss and, unfortunately, ignored it. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is defined as a sudden loss of hearing within a 72-hour period, resulting in a greater than 30 dB reduction at three testing frequencies. It affects approximately one in every 10,000 people. This condition typically occurs in one ear and varies in severity from patient to patient. Often, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and/or vertigo (dizziness) can accompany sudden hearing loss.

There are many causes of sudden hearing loss, including viral infections, neurological disorders, metabolic and immunologic diseases, toxicity, trauma to the head or inner ear, and circulatory problems in the inner ear. It is critical that people who experience sudden hearing loss seek medical attention immediately, as 50% will recover with rapid treatment.

In some cases, the hearing will resolve, but the tinnitus and/or dizziness remain. In others, the hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness disappear, but the ear loses its ability to understand speech. There is no method of predicting how much recovery will occur, but the longer one waits to be treated, the more likely the symptoms will become permanent.

Treatment should be administered by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist and may consist of oral steroids, antiviral medications or histamine therapies. If you experience sudden hearing loss, you should immediately contact your ENT specialist. If he is not available, go to the nearest emergency room. Try to note when the problem began, relate all of your symptoms to the attending physician and remain calm. It is probably best to have somebody drive you, as your equilibrium may be impaired. For more information about sudden hearing loss, contact the American Academy of Otolaryngology (www.entnet.org).

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