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Usually hearing loss is a gradual process, so gradual that you may not notice until it has gotten quite serious. However, sometimes you can lose hearing in one or both ears suddenly, this is known as Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL). The sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears may be alarming, but many patients regain all or most of their hearing. Even in patients with some degree of hearing loss and tinnitus remaining, there are treatments such as hearing aids and audiological rehabilitation that can be very effective. Sudden Sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) should always be taken seriously and treated as a medical emergency. The faster it can be treated, the higher the chance of a full recovery.

Important facts about sudden hearing loss:

  • -Sudden hearing loss is defined as hearing loss when the loss is greater than 30 decibels over three frequencies and develops over a period of less than three days.
  • -Sudden hearing loss often appears without a warning and with no obvious reason.
  • -SSNHL involves the inner ear (cochlea) rather than the outer or middle ear.
  • -Many cases of SSNHL are caused by a virus, and are treated with steroids. Patients with mild hearing loss often recover.
  • -70 percent of patients who experience SSNHL also experience tinnitus, and 50 percent also undergo vertigo (dizziness).
  • -Sudden sensorineural hearing loss occurs in only one ear, with  only 2 percent of patients experiencing loss of hearing in both ears. Mysteriously, it occurs more often in the left ear, with 55 percent of cases.
  • -As you age, your chance of developing SSNHL rises.  20 to 30-year olds, make up only 4.7 people out of 100,000 who experience this condition while in 50 to 60-year olds, it affects 15.8 people out of 100,000.

Treating SSNHL

The first step to treating SSNHL is to have your doctor identify the underlying causes of your hearing loss. They will do a thorough evaluation that includes a physical exam, a hearing test, and laboratory and radiographic studies.  They will ask you for a complete medical history to look for any previous issues that might be to blame.

First some good news.  In 32 to 79 percent of cases where patients experience sudden hearing loss, they recover spontaneously. This most typically occurs within the first two weeks. However, it is important to note that if vertigo is also an issue for the patient, the chances of full recovery do lessen. The most common treatment for SSNHL is steroids. Patients treated with steroids quickly greatly increase the chance of full recovery. 

How Sudden Hearing Loss Occurs in Our Brain

The inner ear and the way our brain connects to it is always a developing field. Even though sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a common disease, it is often difficult for doctors to discover the underlying cause.  When the underlying cause is not known it becomes hard to treat. Unfortunately, many patients are initially misdiagnosed as having an ear infection or impacted earwax, and this can delay treatment. 

This is why it is so important to give your doctor as much information as you can to determine the cause of your hearing loss.  Prompt treatment is one of the most important factors in improving your SSNHL.

Systemic steroids and SSNHL

Most often doctors prescribe steroids (cortisone) for one or two weeks.  These are taken orally. According to many studies, patients who begin steroids within two to four weeks from the onset of hearing loss have the best chance of recovery. Occasionally, a shot of steroids is injected directly into the ear. This can allow higher doses of steroids to reach the fluids of the inner ear. Depending on the underlying cause of the loss, additional treatment is sometimes needed to treat a secondary medical issue.

Hearing aids and cochlear implants can help

While the chance of a recovery in patients who experience SSNHL is relatively high, sometimes there is a lingering loss of hearing. In patients who suffer a permanent hearing loss, treatment is available. The most common treatment is to be fitted with hearing aids.  In some cases, one can receive a surgically implanted cochlear implant that can assist greatly. Hearing technology has improved great over the last number of years with more improvements coming out every day. If you suffer from permanent hearing loss resulting from SSNHL make sure to talk to your doctor and get referred to a hearing professional as soon as possible.

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