Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
hearing loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, occurs when you
lose your hearing very quickly. It can happen instantly or over a span of
several days. During this time, sound gradually becomes more muffled or faint. SSHL
typically only affects one ear.
sound waves. Decibels measure
the intensity, or loudness, of the sounds we hear. Zero is the lowest decibel
level and is close to complete silence. A whisper is 30 decibels, and normal
speech is 60 decibels. A loss of 30 decibels in three connected frequencies is
considered SSHL. This means that a hearing loss of 30 decibels would make
normal speech sound like a whisper.
There are about 4,000
cases of SSHL diagnosed every year in the United States. The condition most
commonly affects people between ages 30 and 60.
Most people with SSHL recover quickly when the condition is
diagnosed and treated promptly. However, about 15 percent of people with the
condition have hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time. Advances in
technology used for hearing aids and cochlear implants are helping to improve
communication for people affected by hearing loss.
SSHL is a serious medical
condition and requires prompt medical attention. Call your doctor right away if
you think you’re experiencing SSHL. Early treatment can save your
SSHL happens when the inner ear, the cochlea in the inner ear, or
the nerve pathways between the ear and the brain become damaged.
There are more than 100 causes of SSHL, so most people can’t
pinpoint the exact cause of their hearing loss. Some of the possible causes
- malformation of the inner ear
- head injury or trauma
- prolonged exposure to loud noise
- neurologic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis
- an immune system disease, such as Cogan’s
disease, which is a disorder that affects the inner ear
- Lyme disease, which is
an infectious disease that’s often transmitted through tick bites
- an ototoxic medication, which can harm the ear
- venom from a snake bite
- blood circulation problems
- abnormal tissue growth or tumors
- blood vessel disease
Babies can be born with SSHL. This may happen as a result of:
- infections that pass from the mother to the
child, such as rubella, syphilis, or herpes
- Toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasite that passes through the womb
- genetic, or inherited, factors
- low birth weight
Is SSHL Diagnosed?
To diagnose SSHL, your doctor will ask you about your medical
history and perform a physical exam. Make sure to tell your doctor about other
medical conditions you may have and about any over-the-counter and prescription
medications you’re taking.
During the physical exam, you may be asked to cover one ear at a
time while listening to various sounds at different volumes. Your doctor may
also perform some tests using a tuning fork, which is an instrument that can
measure vibrations in the ear. These tests can check for damage to the parts of
the middle ear and eardrum that vibrate.
Audiometry tests may be done to check your hearing more
thoroughly and precisely. During these tests, an audiologist will test your
hearing ability using earphones. A series of different sounds and volume levels
may be sent to each ear individually. This can help determine the level at which
your hearing begins to fade.
An MRI scan may also be ordered to look for any abnormalities in
your ear, such as tumors or cysts. The imaging test will take detailed pictures
of your brain and inner ear, which can help your doctor find the underlying
cause of SSHL.
to Test Your Child’s Hearing
Hearing loss can develop in children as a result of infections at
birth or damage caused by ototoxic medications. It may not always be easy to
know if your child is hearing correctly. You should have your child’s hearing
tested if they:
- don’t seem to understand language
- don’t attempt to form words
- don’t appear to startle at sudden noises or
respond to sounds in a way you would expect
- have had numerous ear infections or problems
Are the Symptoms of SSHL?
You may notice hearing loss right after you wake up in the
morning. You may also become aware of it when you use headphones or hold a phone
to your affected ear.
Sudden hearing loss is sometimes preceded by a loud popping
sound. Other signs include:
- trouble following group conversations
- muffled conversation sounds
- inability to hear well when there’s a lot of
- difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
- balance problems
- tinnitus, which occurs when you hear ringing or
buzzing sounds in your ear
out of 10 people with SSHL experience hearing loss in only one ear.
Is SSHL Treated?
Early treatment may increase your chances for a full recovery.
However, your doctor will try to find the cause of your hearing loss before
Steroids are the most common treatment. They can reduce inflammation and swelling. This is especially
helpful in people who have diseases of the immune system, such as Cogan’s
syndrome. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if your SSHL was caused by
In some cases, a cochlear
implant can be surgically inserted into your ear. This implant
doesn’t completely restore hearing, but it can amplify sounds to a more normal
for People with SSHL
About two-thirds of people with SSHL will experience partial recovery of their hearing. One study found that 54.5 percent of people with SSHL showed at least partial recovery in the first 10 days. The recovery is more complete among individuals who experience either high- or low-frequency hearing loss, as opposed to those whose hearing loss is across all frequencies. Only about 3.6 percent of people with SSHL will fully recover their hearing. There is less chance of recovery among older adults and those with vertigo.
Hearing aids and telephone amplifiers can help if your hearing doesn’t improve.
Sign language and lip reading can also improve communication for people with
severe hearing loss.