Most cases of hearing loss in Tucson develop slowly. You might notice a change in the ability to hear high-pitched frequencies first; over time, your condition will grow progressively worse. But in some cases, hearing loss develops suddenly, with little or no warning. Quite a few doctors, it turns out, misdiagnose this condition – preventing patients from receiving important early treatment.
What is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Doctors term any hearing loss that occurs suddenly, or within a 72-hour period, as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (or SSHL for short). More specifically, the patient experiences a hearing reduction of 30 decibels (dB) or greater over three contiguous frequencies. The vast majority of people affected (90 percent) have a hearing loss in only one ear.
SSHL is rare; it strikes an estimated six out of every 5,000 people, according to the National Institutes of Health. Because it is believed the condition often goes unreported or is misdiagnosed, the actual number might be higher. Those most likely to experience a sudden loss of hearing are adults in their 40s and 50s.
Determining the cause of SSHL is difficult, because there are many conditions that can cause it – over 100, in fact. A partial list includes infections, trauma to the head, autoimmune diseases, circulatory problems, neurological disorders, abnormal tissue growth, ototoxic drugs and tumors. There is a strong link between antibiotics and certain cancer drugs and SSHL; these sometimes damage the hair cells in the cochlea.
Challenges in Diagnosing SSHL
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is often misdiagnosed in large part because the symptoms are very similar to those found in more common conditions and include excess wax buildup, congestion, dizziness and a ringing in the ears called tinnitus. These are often side effects of colds, allergies or other less serious conditions. Both doctors and patients are guilty of ignoring the symptoms, mistakenly believing they will clear up after a few days.
In some cases, nasal sprays and decongestants are prescribed in order to clear up congestion. This won’t do any good if you’re experiencing SSHL, and in fact, delaying treatment can reduce your chances of fixing the problem. Some patients in Tucson don’t even realize they are suffering from a loss of hearing because their tinnitus is so bothersome it masks the problem.
The best way to determine whether your sudden loss of hearing is the result of congestion is to hum to yourself. If your voice sounds louder in the problem ear, it’s most likely due to earwax, infection or congestion. But if your voice is louder in the good ear, you are probably suffering from SSHL. If you can’t tell by humming, make an appointment with a Tucson audiologist for a hearing test. Any sudden loss of hearing that doesn’t disappear within a few hours should be examined as soon as possible, especially if it’s accompanied by pressure in the ear. A thorough hearing evaluation is needed to confirm a diagnosis and ensure you receive treatment right away for the best odds of a full recovery.
Treatment for SSHL usually involves corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. These can be taken either orally or injected into your skin. Because they are only effective for about four weeks following the onset of symptoms, don’t delay visiting your Tucson audiologist.