Spotlight: Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
What is sudden sensorineural hearing loss?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a term used to describe hearing loss that develops over a very short period of time. Sensorineural hearing loss generally implies damage to the structures of the inner ear or hearing nerve. While there are many possible causes of sudden sensorineural hearing loss, in most cases, the cause is unknown.
What are the symptoms of sudden sensorineural hearing loss?
In addition to a sudden drop in hearing (which can occur in a brief instant or over a period of hours), patients with sudden sensorineural hearing loss may experience ringing or noise within the ear and some sense of dizziness or imbalance. The presence of any additional neurologic symptoms (such as slurring of speech, confusion, or weakness of the face, arms or legs), although rare, would suggest that a brain stroke might be occurring and would require immediate evaluation at a hospital.
How is sudden sensorineural hearing loss evaluated?
Patients who experience a sudden drop in hearing should be seen immediately, preferably by an ENT physician or Neurotologist, and a complete hearing test should be performed to determine the extent of the hearing loss. Additional tests, including imaging studies such as an MRI, may be required. Oftentimes, patients attribute their ‘clogged ear’ to a cold or allergies. However, if there is any question of a sudden drop in hearing, it is better to have it checked as soon as possible.
What treatments are available?
Treatment is often available, usually in the form of steroid medications, and is much more effective if provided as close in time as possible to the sudden drop in hearing. In addition to oral medication, medication delivered directly into the middle ear (through the ear drum) may be helpful.
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