Don't ignore sudden hearing loss

Posted on Jan. 19, 2015 (0 comments)
Doctor examining patient's ear
See a doctor as soon as possible if you suddenly lose hearing. He or she can determine if you need an urgent referral to a specialist.
By Sepehr Oliaei, MD
Hearing loss is a common, chronic condition affecting millions of Americans. In most cases, the onset of hearing loss is gradual and progresses slowly through life. However, there are less common cases where the onset of hearing loss is more sudden. This rapid hearing loss may also be accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as dizziness and loud ringing noise in one ear. A sudden hearing loss can be an indicator of a medical emergency, requiring a visit to an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist or an audiologist as soon as possible. A sudden change in hearing can happen due to ear wax build-up or fluid in the ears from cold or allergies, neither of which are serious. But there are times when the sudden change is from damage or infection to the inner ear, in which case diagnosing and treating those conditions quickly can be vital to preserving or improving hearing. An audiologist or a hearing specialist can generally determine the type of hearing loss and an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist can usually provide an effective treatment, which may require medicine, a surgical procedure, or both. Here are some commonly asked questions about this condition. What are some signs of a sudden hearing loss that requires urgent evaluation? Usually hearing decline is rapid and occurs in minutes to hours. When the primary care or Emergency Department doctor examines the ear, appearance is more or less normal and no fluid, wax or infection is apparent . How soon does someone with sudden hearing loss need to be evaluated? The sooner the better. Within two to three days is best. After two weeks without appropriate treatment, the hearing loss can become permanent and irreversible. What causes sudden hearing loss? In most cases, the cause is unknown, but in a minority of cases a viral infection, small stroke, autoimmune disease or a tumor is identified as the cause. How is sudden hearing loss evaluated? Usually with a hearing test, a microscopic examination of both ears and — in most cases — an MRI (used to rule out tumors, a very rare cause of sudden hearing loss). What are some ways to treat sudden hearing loss? Studies have shown that treatment with anti-inflammatory medications, such as prednisone, can help reverse hearing loss in some patients. In addition, targeted delivery of anti-inflammatory medications into the middle ear space — done via an in-office procedure — can help augment the treatment. What is the prognosis for sudden hearing loss? If treated within two weeks, more than 50 percent of patients can have some recovery of their hearing. Early treatment is of the essence to increase the odds of recovery. If you are experiencing a sudden loss of hearing, don’t wait. Ask your doctor if an urgent Ear, Nose, Throat referral would be appropriate in your particular case.
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About The Author

Oliaei_Sepehr Sepehr Oliaei, MD Sepehr Oliaei, MD, is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at MultiCare ENT Specialists - Tacoma. To schedule an appointment or evaluation, call 253-403-0065.