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Sudden Hearing Loss? Yes, It Can Happen.

Hearing Loss Doctor

Most hearing loss is subtle and inconspicuous, taking its toll over time, often imperceptibly, until it becomes a quality-of-life problem. But hearing loss is a condition with more than one personality, so to speak. There is another, more brazen type called, Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL).

SSHL is a rapid decrease in hearing, usually in one ear, that occurs over a period of about 72 hours. The cause can be difficult to pin down, since the possibilities include infectious diseases, injury to the head, vascular issues and immune system problems.

Often mistaken for an ear infection

Catching SSHL at the beginning of that hearing loss window is difficult, since the first symptom many patients experience is as sense of fullness or blockage inside the ear. A lot of people experience those symptoms and they aren’t unique to SSHL; even doctors don’t tend to be particularly alarmed by them. Other symptoms of SSHL include:

  • Difficulty pinpointing a source of sound
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Vertigo (dizziness and/or imbalance)
  • Trouble understanding soft voices amid background noises or room echo

SSHL is often misdiagnosed as simply an ear infection, for which a doctor will prescribe antibiotics and/or nasal sprays. And although they are not recommended by the American Academy of Otolaryngology (the treatment of ear, nose and throat ailments), it is fairly routine to see physicians prescribing antiviral medications, antioxidants, drugs that dissolve blood clots and substances that widen blood vessels.

No making up for lost time

Delaying an accurate diagnosis of SSHL by spending time treating for an ear infection means time lost in getting effective SSHL care for the patient. Since treating SSHL soon after onset is vital, delaying can limit or even prevent the effectiveness of eventual treatment.

Quick collaboration between a patient’s physician and an audiologist is key in the effective treatment of SSHL. A doctor experienced in recognizing SSHL will first perform an otoscope exam to make sure the fullness and/or decrease in hearing being experienced isn’t the result of impacted ear wax. After that, rather than rush to a diagnosis such as an ear infection, an SSHL-aware physician will refer the patient to an audiologist for diagnostic testing. If SSHL is diagnosed, the patient’s doctor should provide an immediate referral to an ear/nose/throat specialist (ENT); that appointment should happen within 48 hours.

How SSHL is treated

Treatment of SSHL usually involves corticosteroids that are either taken orally or injected into the inner ear through the ear drum. While it is possible that SSHL will clear up on its own, corticosteroid treatment within the first two weeks after the hearing loss occurs can be very beneficial. Another treatment that is sometimes used within three months of the an SSHL diagnosis is hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which increases the supply of oxygen to the inner ear.

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5-143 Clarence Street
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