Sudden hearing loss; Now what?

REMEMBER: You have a brief window to seek treatment for Sudden Hearing Loss!

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Sudden hearing loss; Now what?

See your doctor right away. The sooner you get a thorough audiological workup, the better your chances are for a full recovery. Sudden-onset hearing loss is considered a 'medical emergency' and prompt treatment might just save your hearing. Even though the name implies it, sudden hearing loss doesn't always happen all at once. You usually get it in just one ear. You may not lose your hearing completely. Some people first notice hearing loss when they try to talk on the phone with the affected ear. Others hear a loud "pop" right before their hearing goes away. More symptoms often happen. Dizziness and ringing in the ears are common. You may also feel pressure in your ear. Doctors often don't know what causes sudden hearing loss.

Some conditions that may cause Sudden Hearing Loss include:

  • Infections
  • Head Trauma
  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Exposure to certain drugs that treat cancer or severe infections
  • Blood circulation problems
  • Neurological disorders, such a Multiple Sclerosis
  • Disorders of the inner ear, such as Meniere's Disease (For more information, read the NIDCD fact sheet Meniere's Disease)

With pure tone audiometry, your doctor can measure how loud different frequencies, or pitches, of sounds need to be before you can hear them. One sign of SSHL could be the loss of at least 30decibels (decibels are a measure of sound intensity) in three connected frequencies within 72 hours. This drop would, for example, make conversational speech sound like a whisper. Patients may have more subtle, sudden changes in their hearing and may be diagnosed with other tests. If you are diagnosed with sudden deafness, your doctor will probably order additional tests to try to determine an underlying cause for your SSHL. These tests may include blood tests, imaging (usually magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI), and balance tests.

Common Treatments for Sudden Hearing Loss

The most common treatment for sudden deafness, especially when the cause is unknown, is corticosteroids. Steroids can treat many disorders and usually work by reducing inflammation, decreasing swelling, and helping the body fight illness. Previously, steroids were given in pilll form. In 2011, a clinical trial supported by the NIDCD showed that intratympanic (through the eardrum) injection of steroids was as effective as oral steroids. After this study, doctors started prescribing direct intratympanic injection of steroids into the middle ear; the medication then flows into the inner ear. The injections can be performed in the offices of many otolaryngologists, and are a good option for people who cannot take oral steroids or want toavoid their side effects. Steroids should be used as soon as possible for the best effect and may even be recommended before all test results come back.

If your doctor finds an underlying cause of your hearing loss, they may be able to treat that condition. Ear infections, for example, are often treated with antibiotics.

REMEMBER: You have a brief window to seek treatment for Sudden Hearing Loss!

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About North Side Audiology

North Side Audiology Group is a leader in audiological care specializing in the treatment of hearing loss. Services include comprehensive hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings & programming, hearing loss rehabilitation and more. We are open Monday - Friday 8:30am-5:00pm. Our practice is conveniently located in North Side Chicago at 4200 W. Peterson Avenue, Suite 100.

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