For most individuals in Tucson with hearing loss, the condition develops gradually, often taking years to even become noticeable. Once in a blue moon, a person will experience a sudden loss of hearing seemingly overnight. This is known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss and can be quite frightening! Fortunately, it’s pretty rare.
What is SSHL?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, abbreviated SSHL and sometimes referred to as sudden deafness, is defined as a hearing reduction of 30 decibels (dB) or greater that affects three contiguous frequencies over a period of 72 hours or less. Ninety percent of Tucson residents who experience SSHL end up with unilateral hearing loss (affecting one ear only). It might be accompanied by dizziness or tinnitus, a ringing in the ear.
SSHL varies in severity. Some patients experience a complete recovery without any sort of medical treatment after a few days. Others notice a gradual improvement in their symptoms after a couple of weeks. But for fifteen percent of Arizonans, their hearing grows worse with time.
What Causes Sudden Deafness and How is it Treated?
You might have better luck throwing a dart at a board to figure out a cause for your SSHL as there are more than 100 possible triggers. The extensive list includes infections diseases, trauma to the head, neurological disorders, circulatory problems, immunologic diseases, abnormal tissue growth and ototoxic medications. Antibiotics are one of the more prevalent causes, as certain types have been demonstrated to destroy the hair cells of the cochlea with virtually no warning. This doesn’t mean you should turn down treatment for a serious bacterial infection, but proceed with caution and ask your doctor if there are other options when being prescribed antibiotics.
A number of symptoms may precede or accompany SSHL. These include:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- A sudden loud “pop” in the ear, similar to that experienced with a change in pressure
- Muffled hearing upon waking up or when using the telephone
Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing sudden sensorineural hearing loss. If you have been diagnosed with meningitis in the past, had a recent head injury or ear infection, been exposed to loud noise, experienced a sudden change in pressure or started taking a new medication, you are more susceptible to sudden deafness.
Any of these symptoms should prompt you to seek immediate medical attention. Do not delay; your Tucson audiologist will want to see you right away, in order to give you the best chances for a full recovery. Your treatment solution will depend upon the underlying cause, if that can be determined. Steroids are the most common treatment; these help reduce inflammation and assist the body in fighting illness.