Meandering Through A Hearing World
What Happens If You Suddenly Lose Your Hearing
Sudden Hearing Loss. I’ve read the stories. Perhaps you’ve suffered from SHL. Most people notice symptoms upon waking. There’s the sensation of fullness in one of your ears, as if water has flooded your ear canal. You hear a popping sound followed by a persistent ringing. You feel dizzy, nauseated, and have a terrible headache. Worse, an unusual quiet blankets the room. The voices of those around you sound muffled. The ringing in your ear persists. You feel anxious and wonder what is wrong.
Always consider such symptoms a medical emergency. There are sixty-six thousand new cases of Sudden Hearing Loss diagnosed every year. Ninety percent of people who experience Sudden Hearing Loss recover in six to eight weeks if treatment begins immediately.
In order to diagnose the cause of your SHL, a doctor will take a history and perform a physical exam. It is important to provide your doctor with a list of your medications. Some drugs are ototoxic and can cause Sudden Hearing Loss. You must also let you doctor know if you’ve experienced recent trauma or have other underlying medical conditions. Usually, tests, such as a pure tone audiogram and an MRI of the inner ear, are ordered.
Doctors are not always able to pinpoint the cause of Sudden Hearing Loss. Problems such as infections, structural damage to the inner ear, poor blood circulation, ear wax or trauma are found in only ten percent of cases. If no pathological condition is discovered, the patient is put on steroids and sent home. The patient is asked to follow-up with an audiologist and an ENT physician in ten days. If hearing is not restored in ten days then the patient is kept on steroids for six to eight weeks.
Ten percent of people who experience SHL end up with a permanent hearing loss. Losing one’s hearing suddenly is an emotional and life-changing experience. People with SHL often suffer from debilitating panic attacks. It becomes difficult to socialize and conduct business. Relationships suffer. Sometimes people are unable to perform their former job duties and have to take a leave of absence or change jobs.
Patients who end up with permanent hearing loss must treat their condition. How your hearing loss is treated depends on the gravity of the loss. Sometimes hearing aids are adequate. Sometimes a cochlear implant is needed. If the hearing loss only involves one ear and if the other ear has normal hearing, a Contralateral Routing System or CROS System might be offered. A CROS System is composed of two hearing aids, one with a microphone and the other with a receiver. The aid with the microphone is inserted in the ear with hearing loss while the other aid is inserted in the ear with normal hearing. The microphone amplifies sound and sends signals from the normal ear to the receiver in the affected ear. CROS systems work best when one ear has near perfect hearing. Most of the major hearing aid manufacturers offer this technology. Cochlear implant manufacturers have implantable CROS systems. Your audiologist can help you choose the best system to restore as much of your hearing as possible.
Sometimes and for reasons not completely understood, permanent hearing loss occurs in the unaffected ear, resulting in bilateral hearing loss. In these cases, treatment involves standard hearing aids. If the hearing loss is severe or profound, a cochlear implant might be recommended.
Sudden Hearing Loss is not preventable, but it can be treated with steroids if no trauma or other underlying condition is found. In most cases, hearing is restored after eight weeks. Patients should follow their healthcare providers’ instructions and return for follow-up visits. Do not ignore unusual symptoms involving your hearing. With prompt medical attention, permanent hearing loss can be avoided in cases of Sudden Hearing Loss.