Sudden Loss of Hearing: A Potential Medical Emergency

Posted: April 23 2019

It may seem obvious that you if you wake up without any hearing in one ear, or if you notice a sudden onset of hearing loss, that you would immediately seek medical help.  However, in many cases, patients often employ the "wait and watch" approach, where they will let their symptoms go untreated expecting that their hearing will spontaneously recover. However, this can be a sign of a medical emergency and individuals experiencing these symptoms should see an audiologist right away to have a hearing assessment.

A sudden onset of hearing loss in one ear may be a sign of something known as a "Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss" (SSHL).  This type of loss occurs rapidly and can be accompanied by a feeling of being "blocked", "plugged", or "full" in that ear.  Some individuals also experience dizziness, and tinnitus in the affected ear, which can sound like a loud "roaring" or "ringing" type of noise.  Although, the causes of this type of hearing loss are typically unknown (idiopathic), it may often be associated with a viral infection affecting the hearing nerve or a vascular issue where blood flow and oxygen are not reaching the inner ear properly. The effects of this type of loss can be irreparable and devastating to individuals.   

As such, this type of hearing loss needs to be diagnosed by an audiologist in order to ensure the best course of action is obtained.  Patients usually require treatment from an otolaryngologist (ears, nose and throat physician), which involves the use of an oral steroid treatment (Prednisone), and/or injections of Dexamethasone into the middle ear space (via their eardrum).  If the patient is seen within 48 hours, the outcomes for hearing restoration are typically better.  However, even if someone waits longer than this critical period of time, the same treatment may still be employed and patients can oftentimes regain at least some of their hearing.

Therefore, it is important for everyone to be aware of the seriousness of a sudden hearing loss, and to seek immediate assistance if they are experiencing these symptoms. 

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