Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), or sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing that can happen all at once or over a period of up to 3 days. When it happens, it should be considered a medical emergency. A person who experiences SSHL should see a physician immediately. Your physician should ask for a hearing test or at least perform a tuning fork test to see if hearing loss is present.
If at all possible, an audiologist should conduct a comprehensive hearing test to determine whether a person has experienced SSHL and report back to the physician for medical management and medication if needed. If a hearing loss of at least 30 decibels in three connected frequencies is discovered, it is diagnosed as SSHL. A decibel is a measure of sound and a decibel level of 30 is half as loud as a normal conversation. A frequency is another way your audiologist measures sound and is commonly known as the “pitch” of the sound.
In 9 out of 10 people who experience SSHL, hearing loss affects only one ear. Many people notice it when they wake up in the morning. Others notice it when they make a phone call using their affected ear. Still others notice a loud, alarming “pop” just before their hearing disappears. People with SSHL often experience dizziness or a ringing in their ears (tinnitus), or both.
40% to 70% patients recover completely without medical intervention, often within the first 2 weeks. This is called a spontaneous recovery. Approximately 4,000 new cases of SSHL occur each year in the United States. It can affect anyone, but for unknown reasons it happens most often to people between the ages of 30 and 60.
What Are the Causes of SSHL?
Though there are over a 100 possible causes of sudden hearing loss, it’s rare for a specific cause to be precisely identified. Only 10 to 15 percent of patients with SSHL know what caused their loss. Normally, diagnosis is based on the patient’s medical history. Possible causes include the following:
- Infectious diseases
- Trauma, such as a head injury
- Abnormal tissue growth
- Immunologic diseases such as Cogan’s syndrome
- Toxic causes, such as snake bites
- Ototoxic drugs (drugs that harm the ear)
- Circulatory problems
- Neurologic causes such as multiple sclerosis
- Relation to disorders such as Ménière’s disease
What Are the Treatments?
People who experience SSHL should see a physician immediately. Doctors believe that finding medical help quickly increases the chances for recovery. Several treatments are available for SSHL, but researchers aren’t certain which is the best for any one cause. For one specific cause, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics for the patient. For another, a doctor may advise a patient to stop taking any medicine that can irritate or damage the ear.
The most common therapy for SSHL, especially in cases with an unknown cause is treatment with steroids. Steroids are used to treat many different disorders and usually work to reduce inflammation, decrease swelling, and help the body fight illness. Steroid treatment helps some SSHL patients who also have conditions that affect the immune system, which is the body’s defense against disease.
Another common method that may help some patients is a low salt diet. Researchers believe that this method helps people with SSHL who also have Ménière’s disease, a hearing and balance disorder.
Two factors that help hearing function properly are good air and blood flow inside the ear. Many researchers now think that SSHL happens when important parts of the inner ear do not receive enough oxygen. A common treatment for this possible cause is called carbogen inhalation. Carbogen is a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide that seems to help air and blood flow better inside the ear. Like steroid therapy, carbogen inhalation does not help every patient, but some SSHL patients taking carbogen have recovered over a period of time.
In the hearing industry, we often see patients suffering from sudden sensorineural hearing loss. We always recommend you immediately see your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room for treatment. The sooner you get treatment, the better chance of saving your hearing
To understand more about SSHL set up an appointment today. We would love to give you a FREE hearing screening and discuss the right device for you. We’ve served San Jose and the Bay Area for over 40 years, providing the right solution for Your Life. Your Style.
Los Gatos Audiology 15899 Los Gatos-Almaden Rd., Suite 8 Los Gatos, CA 95032
For an appointment please call (408) 354-1312 or visit www.losgatosaudiology.com.