Sudden Hearing Loss: Acting quickly is important

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed when a loss greater than 30dB in three contiguous frequencies. The loss happens over a period of less than three days and it is typically disregarded as a head cold. The problem is that the 72 hours is more than enough to cause permanent damage. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) may be noticed upon awakening in the morning or develop rapidly over hours or days. The condition is fundamentally a stroke to the ear where the blood vessels do not deliver the necessary blood flow to sustain the hearing system. Tinnitus and vertigo can be a part of the symptoms of the condition.

Incidents:

Incidents of Sudden sensorineural hearing loss are mostly unilateral, only 2% experience a case of bilateral sudden sensorineural hearing loss. In 55% of cases, the hearing loss occurs in the left ear. The incidence increases with age: 4.7 out of 100,000 people aged 20-30, and 15.8 per 100,000 in those 50-60 years of age. There are equally as many men as women who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss.

Recovery:

Spontaneous recovery occurs in 32-79% of the cases, usually within the first two weeks. The chances of full hearing recovery are smaller for patients with severe loss of hearing and when the sudden sensorineural hearing loss is accompanied by vertigo. The younger the patient, the greater the likelihood of a full recovery.

Treatment:

Treatment with systemic steroids has proven to be successful in many cases, but sudden sensorineural hearing loss should be treated as soon as possible. Studies have shown that those who have begun treatment within two to four weeks have the greatest chance of recovery. Currently the FDA has begun testing of the drug AM-111 and it might be the solution to restore hearing to those who suffered from SSNHL.

The causes of sudden sensorineural hearing loss vary widely. In 30-70% of cases with permanent hearing loss, sudden sensorineural hearing loss may be treated with various types of hearing aids or cochlear implants, as determined by your hearing health specialists.

Source: Hearing Review, December 2003, Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss special issue and www.utmb.edu

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