A friend of ours called a few weeks ago to ask Layne what to do about a sudden hearing loss that he woke up with the day before. He woke up in the morning and couldn’t hear out of one ear. He left it for a day, thinking that it would get better, but it didn’t and so he called. We told him to treat it as a medical emergency and we helped him to get into see an Ear, Nose, and Throat Physician the next day.
Sudden Hearing Loss can happen all at once or over a period of 2-3 days. Because treatment is often time-sensitive, a person who experiences sudden hearing loss should see a doctor immediately.
Hearing loss is classified as either sensorineural (damage to the nerves and hair cells in the ear), or conductive (physical obstruction or malfunction of the ear canal, ear drum or bones of the ear.) The doctor or an audiologist will perform a hearing evaluation to determine if the loss is sensorineural or conductive. If there is a sensorineural loss of at least 30 dB in at least 3 frequencies is found, it is diagnosed as Sudden Sensorineural Loss, or SSNL.
- viral infection
- auto-immune response
- trauma, such as a head injury
- ototoxic drugs
- Abnormal tissue growth
- neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis
Most doctors believe that the quicker you begin treatment, the more hearing you are able to restore. The most common therapy for SSNL, especially one with an unknown cause, is treatment with steroids. Steroids usually work to decrease inflammation and swelling and generally to help the body to fight illness. Some patients recover spontaneously and without treatment, however, because in a small amount of cases an untreated loss can be permanent, it is best to seek the advice of a medical professional.
The loss could be conductive, meaning that something is physically obstructing the ear from functioning. The most common cause is ear wax, but it can also be caused by an ear infection or a more serious trauma to the ear canal, ear drum, or middle ear bones. You should also be seen by a doctor for these conditions. Ear wax can be removed, and ear infections usually treated with antibiotics, but problems with the ear drum or middle ear bones often require surgery or hearing aids to correct the loss.
Luckily, our friend was able to get into the doctor the next day and start a course of steroids. His hearing is 90% back to normal and he can now comfortably use his cell phone and hear his children.
If you have any questions about hearing loss, please give our office a call at 801-770-0801.