Sudden Hearing Loss: A Medical Emergency

Several months ago I wrote an article regarding a problem that I see in my office on a relatively frequent basis.  That is a condition known as sudden onset hearing loss. I feel that it is important that I discussed this matter again, as I have treated an unusually large number of people in my office over the last 6 months.

As most of us are aware hearing loss is usually a slow and gradual process.  It is the product of noise exposure, the aging process, poor circulation, and multiple other factors.  Sometimes infections can play a role in hearing loss.

Some types of viruses can penetrate into the nerve endings inside the inner ear and within less than 24 hours cause severe profound hearing loss.  The hearing loss is usually just in one ear.  There may not be any pain associated with it.  Usually the person has a feeling of fullness and pressure like the ear is stopped up.

Unfortunately this is the same type of symptoms that can come with a common head cold, when there is a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum.  It may be difficult for a healthcare provider working at a minor care clinic or someone with not much experience to tell the difference between the minor problem of fluid behind the eardrum and major viral sudden severe hearing loss.

This is extremely important that the cause of the hearing loss is quickly determined.  If the virus induced sudden inner ear hearing loss is recognized within 1 week and treated aggressively with high-dose steroids or even steroid injections into the ear there is an excellent chance of return of hearing to normal levels.  However, the longer that this aggressive treatment is delayed the less chance of improvement or regaining hearing.

There is one very simple test that a patient who has lost hearing in one ear can do to determine which type of problem is present.  All that requires is the person to hum out loud.  If the bad ear has lost hearing due to the virus in the inner ear then the person will not hear the humming at all.  If your ear is stopped up like fluid or a head cold the humming will actually sound louder in that ear.

Here is an Internet story that is excellent that can provide much more information on this problem:

https://www.vox.com/2018/9/27/17900832/sudden-hearing-loss-causes-infections-treatments

Again hearing is a precious commodity.  If you or a friend has suddenly lost hearing in one ear, seek medical attention quickly, preferably with an ENT.