Posted on Monday, February 06, 2012

The Danger of Sudden Hearing Loss

The Truth about Sudden Hearing Loss

Typically people who suffer from hearing loss are either born with the condition or develop it over time, but there is another kind of hearing loss that is destructive and abrupt. Sudden sensorieneural hearing loss (SSHL) is an unexpected loss of most or all hearing in one or both ears occurring within 3 days or less. Sudden hearing loss is considered an emergency, but those experiencing it often don't understand they need to call an audiologist immediately. The tendency with sudden hearing loss is to wait and see if it clears up. That's because loss of hearing or a clogged feeling in the ears is mistakingly believed to be temporary, but waiting to treat SSHL often results in permanent hearing loss.

There are some obvious ways for a layperson to know why or if they are suffering from sudden hearing loss; trauma to the ear, recent plane travel, or other physical causes like sneezing. But sudden hearing loss doesn’t always have a direct link to overt physical suffering, and if it occurs without pain, it can seem even less like an emergency. As Wayne Curtis stated when interviewed for his sudden hearing loss, "I had always assumed that something as serious as losing your hearing would be accompanied by pain like an earache or damage….This was just so out of the blue."

Curtis woke up and discovered he was almost completely deaf in his left ear.

According to the Washington Post's article on Curtis, “patients suffer permanent deafness as a result of delays in diagnosis and treatment..." In Curtis' case he had suffered from allergies for years and would not have gone to the doctor if he wasn't worried about the clogged feeling interfering with a musical performance. This decision saved his hearing. As the Post points out, "Unlike conductive hearing loss, which affects the outer ear, sudden sensorieneural hearing loss is an urgent medical problem that can range in severity from mild to profound.”

Many people afflicted with sudden hearing loss never realize there is a limited amount of time to seek help. That time limit is what the Center for Hearing Loss Help defines as the “golden hour”. It’s not actually an hour. In fact, it’s best for a person to seek help within 24-48 hours to regain full hearing. However, there are examples of patients treated a few weeks after the incident regaining partial to full hearing, so even if you have passed that golden hour, don’t despair, get to a doctor.

It is imperative to consult an audiologist when faced with sudden hearing loss.

Often a family doctor has limited experience with sudden hearing loss and will give incorrect treatment or dismiss the patient entirely. The reason many family doctors aren’t equipped to deal with sudden hearing loss is that it isn’t terribly common. The online resource Medscape says, “Estimates of the annual incidence of sudden sensory hearing loss range from 5-20 cases per 100,000 persons.” The causes of this mysterious condition aren’t widely known either. In fact, only ten percent of the reasons for sudden hearing loss are ever identified.

There are numerous reasons to see an audiologist, including annual visits to preserve hearing, but sudden hearing loss should be one of the clearest because of the limited time that a person has in order to get treatment and protect their hearing. An audiologist is more likely to know about the advances in dealing with sudden hearing loss as well. Including the most recent an injection to help combat sudden hearing loss.

You can watch a video on this procedure below.

Share this article and help spread the word about sudden hearing loss, so that family, friends, parents, and grandparents are educated about this emergency condition.


Boodman G. Sandra (2010, July) Medical Mysteries: Sudden hearing loss in one ear was no minor irritant. On Sept 20, 2011 Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/26/AR201007...

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