Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), which is a hearing loss over a period of less than three days that is represented by greater than 30 dB in three continuous frequencies is diagnosed in 5 to 27 people out of every 100,000.
It may be apparent immediately or could come on quickly over a short period of time such as several hours or days. Usually it is most commonly reported to be noticed upon waking up in the morning.
According to Seth R. Schwartz, MD, MPH, who served as the methodologist for both the 2012 guideline and the 2019 guideline update, “Sudden hearing loss is a frightening symptom for patients that can dramatically decrease their quality of life. Prompt recognition and management of sudden sensorineural hearing loss may improve hearing recovery and quality of life. That is the overarching objective and purpose of this guideline update.”
SSNHL can affect either one ear or both. It could develop as conductive hearing loss (CHL), or sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). It could even be a combination of the two and it’s even possible for both to occur in the same ear.
The occurrence of CHL as well as the conductive portion of the mixture of the two types of hearing loss can be brought on by an abnormality located within three areas of the ear:
- Ear canal
- Middle ear
- Tympanic membrane
For those who experience SSNHL, their first response is to head to their doctor or the nearest emergency room or urgent care center to find out why they suddenly cannot hear or have very reduce hearing. Dizziness is a common side effect as well as tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears.
In order to determine the cause, the doctor will complete an evaluation including an extensive history, a physical examination, a full audiological evaluation, as well as laboratory and radiographic testing. Despite the extensive testing, sometimes the cause of the problem is a mystery.
In the event the cause can be traced, it can be divided into several different areas such as:
These categories include neurologic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, immune system diseases like Cogan syndrome, and inner ear disorders such as Meniere disease. Exposure to loud noise could also be a factor in this occurrence.
Treatments range broadly due to the determination of cause, in the event it can be found. Often treatment is prescribed by removing the patient from an ototoxic medication they’re currently using or correcting another underlying issue such as a systemic disorder.
Rehabilitation can be extensive due to the fact that secondary difficulties could result from this disorder such as anxiety, depression, and fear. Luckily many patients adjust fairly well to being able to hear from only one ear.
In 2012, the issue of sudden hearing loss stemmed the creation of a guideline to help diagnose, determine the best testing and image capturing procedures, and treat the issue. With all the changes in technology and since then, an update was required.
“While the original guideline was a big step, this update provides an opportunity to improve diagnostic accuracy, facilitate prompt intervention, reduce unnecessary tests, and improve hearing and rehabilitative outcomes for patients,” said Dr. Schwartz. “Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, particularly when accompanied by tinnitus and dizziness, can cause a great reduction of quality of life. Patients may experience fear and frustration at the inability to identify a cause for their hearing loss. The impact of this condition on a patient’s function and well-being underlies the importance of an updated guideline to optimize care of patients with this debilitating condition.”
About half of all patients who develop SSNHL will recover at least a little bit of their hearing without any treatment. Steroid therapy for those that fall within the mild to severe range of the disorder can help increase the chances to 75 to 80 percent recovery rate.
For patients with profound or complete hearing loss, those who experience dizziness or vertigo along with the sudden loss of hearing, and people who are over 65 years old, there is a much slimmer chance of recovering their hearing.
These cases demand the intervention of a hearing health professional. Discussion of aggressive therapy treatments could open up opportunities for the return of some part of hearing for the individuals that fall into this bracket, though keep in mind that it could take up to six weeks for any hearing to return after the treatment is finished.
If you or a loved one may be suffering from SSNHL, try to find a counselor or therapist you can speak candidly with. Often your audiologist or hearing health professional can refer you to someone who has dealt with similar cases. Don’t let the fear, anxiety, or depression you may be feeling to overwhelm the things you’ve always enjoyed and lessen your quality of life. Seek the right kind of help for your situation and follow the advice of professionals and you’ll aid in your recovery efforts immensely.