When a person’s hearing ability loses more than 30 decibels over at least 3 adjoining frequencies in less than 72 hours, they are termed to have sudden hearing loss (SHL). Usually only one ear is affected by this, but in some cases, both ears can lose their abilities simultaneously. It’s common that tinnitus will exist with the sudden hearing loss, usually shown through a ringing in the ear. Tinnitus is the perception that noises are present when in actuality there is no noise. Vertigo is also found in forty percent of the SHL cases.
Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss
There can be many possible sources of sudden hearing loss because this is a condition that most often develops in people over the age of 45. Infections, diseases, immune system malfunctions, neurologic disorders, circulatory problems, drugs, and trauma can all be sources of sudden hearing loss. There are many possible causes behind SHL making it unlikely that Doctors will determine the exact cause of the damage. Out of all people who experience SHL, 9 out of 10 of them only experience sudden hearing loss in one ear.
Diagnosis – The first diagnosis of hearing loss usually comes from observation from the individual experiencing the hearing loss or people that interact with that person. Following this, a proper evaluation from a physician that can identify possible infections, ototoxic medications, or systematic diseases the patient has. After this examination, if a person is still experiencing hearing loss, an audiogram is required to properly identify if they have SHL.
Sudden hearing loss is most often identified through this visit to the audiologist where they will test the patient’s ability to hear different sounds at different volumes and frequencies. Sometimes blood tests are given to rule out systemic causes of sudden hearing loss. If a patient is suspected of having acoustic neuroma (only 15% of patients) then magnetic resonance imaging can be used to determine if this condition exists in the brain.
Treatments for Sudden Hearing Loss
Depending on the severity of the sudden hearing loss and the causes of the condition, there can be many treatments used to compensate for the hearing loss. Corticosteroids are one of the most popular and accepted treatment options since studies have shown that these are more effective than placebos.
In 2008, a study revealed that taking a high-dose prednisone taper along with intratympanic dexamethasone therapy could help improve hearing in people suffering from SHL. Antivirals can also be used as a treatment, especially if there is some condition inducing the hearing loss.
The most extreme forms of treatment involve the use of vasodilators or hyperbaric chambers. The effectiveness of vasodilators has not been validated yet, but in some cases this can be a solution to the hearing impairment.
Hyberbaric oxygen treatment has also been used in patients that have difficulty with their circulatory systems transferring oxygen throughout the body. If a patient is a heavy smoker or has circulatory problems, this treatment is usually employed along with steroids to combat the hearing loss.
It has been shown that sometimes the sudden hearing loss can vanish and hearing can return to normal levels. This can be especially prevalent in cases where a patient is suffering from an illness or infection that blocks the transmission of the sound throughout the ear and to the brain.
Sudden hearing loss can also be persistent and will therefore require long-term treatment. This is most often done through the use of hearing aids to fix the hearing impairment problems. Commonly this isn’t a permanent solution as the hearing will continue to diminish.