Hearing Health Blog

Image of someone going to ER to treat sudden hearing loss.

More frequently than we would like to admit, in today’s society, we put off on health care.

Consider people who disregard their own health care so they can get protection for their children. What about professionals who can’t squeeze in a doctor’s appointment because they are to busy going to meetings. Then there are people who are frightened of what they might hear so they steer clear of the doctor’s office preferring to remain ignorant.

But what would you do if you needed more than just your annual preventive flu shot or something to ward off a sinus infection? What would you do if you woke up one day with sudden and complete hearing loss in one or both ears?

If your answer is just to wait it out until your hearing returns, there’s a good chance it never will. Hearing professionals caution that if you don’t have sudden temporary hearing loss treated immediately, especially if it’s at the nerve level, it could become permanent.

What is Sudden Hearing Loss?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), only about half the people who experience sudden hearing loss–the rapid loss of 30 decibels or more of hearing ability–will regain some or all of their hearing naturally.

Many people would be shocked to know how frequently sudden hearing loss happens. As a matter of fact for every 5,000 people, between one and six are estimated to experience sudden loss of hearing. With that being said, the NIDCD cautions that the quantity of undiagnosed cases would cause that number to swell if you were to include them. That means that about 400,000 (or more) Americans might develop sudden loss of hearing every year.

Sudden hearing loss can actually occur over a few hours or days so the term is somewhat of a misnomer.

Sudden Hearing Loss; What is The Cause?

Doctors are often unable to figure out the cause because it comes on over hours or even days. The sad truth is that only about 10 percent of people diagnosed with sudden loss of hearing have a cause that can be determined. Of those that hearing experts can determine, the most common causes are autoimmune disease, neurological disorders, infections, exposure to certain drugs, blood circulation disorders and inner ear disorders.

Your best chance of getting back at least some of your regular hearing function, as mentioned, is to get treatment right away.

How do You Handle Sudden Hearing Loss?

In the majority of cases, particularly those where the cause is not known, the normal course of treatment involves corticosteroids. As with all steroid use, the purpose is to minimize inflammation and decrease swelling.

The preferred method of treatment has evolved since researchers have carried out more studies on sudden loss of hearing and medicine has advanced. Pill form is how these steroids were classically prescribed, but for people who were leery of the side effects of medication or were unable to use oral steroids, this presented a challenge.

An injection of steroids through the eardrum proved to be as reliable as an oral steroid according to a 2018 NIDCD clinical trial, even side-stepping the drawbacks of oral alternatives by allowing the medication to go directly into the ear. Ear, nose and throat specialist around the country regularly give these injections in the office.

Another reason why seeking immediate medical care is so crucial is that your doctor might order a panel of tests that could diagnose the underlying issue behind your sudden loss of hearing or another dangerous condition. These tests may include blood-work, an MRI or other methods of imaging and even an examination of your balance.

We Could be Getting Close to New Treatment For Sudden Hearing Loss

Researchers continue to work on the issue but honestly, there’s a lack of solid facts about the cause of sudden loss of hearing. New advancements with infusing drugs into little microspheres would offer a new technique of administering the steroids in what could be a safer way.

Researchers have shown that even though they may not have all the answers about sudden loss of hearing, your chances of getting your hearing back is increased by seeking early treatment. If you’re experiencing hearing loss, either gradual or sudden, you should get in touch with a hearing professional right away.

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