Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of different things; however, sudden onset hearing loss is an alarming condition. Imagine that one day you can hear perfectly and the next, your hearing is gone. This condition is known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss, and it is an ENT emergency. Prompt evaluation and treatment is key to recovery.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (or SSNHL) is usually one-sided. There are a number of causes for SSNHL, but the most common of these is a viral infection that attacks the inner ear and hearing nerve. Another, less common, cause of sudden hearing loss is a vestibular schwannoma, or a benign tumor of the hearing nerve. SSNHL is rare, with estimates of the annual incidence ranging from 5-20 cases per 100,000 people. This may be an underestimate, however, as many cases likely go unreported.
If you experience a sudden loss of hearing, urgent evaluation is recommended, as the longer treatment is delayed, the less likely there is for recovery of hearing. During your evaluation, you will undergo a thorough ear exam, as well as a hearing test. Your doctor will determine if other testing, such as an MRI, is needed to further evaluate your hearing loss.
After you have been diagnosed with SSNHL, your doctor will discuss a treatment plan with you. If you do not have other medical issues that prohibit it, this plan will almost certainly include a steroid burst followed by a taper. Intratympanic (or through the ear drum) steroid injections have also been shown to significantly improve hearing in patients with severe sudden sensorineural hearing loss. These options will all be discussed with you in detail at your appointment.
If you experience sudden onset of hearing loss, do not delay in seeking care. Recovery in hearing depends strongly on the promptness of evaluation. Call us today if you think you might be experiencing sudden sensorineural hearing loss.