What You Need to Know about Sudden Hearing Loss

Unless you personally know someone who has experienced sudden hearing loss, odds are that you do not know much about it. In fact, many people have never heard of it at all.
Most hearing loss occurs gradually over time, usually during a period of months or even years. This may be age-related hearing loss, or it could be noise-induced. Both of these types of hearing loss are quite common and often set in slowly. Sudden hearing loss, however, happens in a much shorter timeframe. If the hearing loss happens in three days or less, it is considered sudden hearing loss (SHL).
Sudden hearing loss can take three forms. The first is sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). This means that the hearing loss is caused by problems in the inner ear or nerve of hearing. The second type, conductive hearing loss (CHL), occurs when the problem is in the eardrum, ear canal, or middle ear. The third type is called mixed hearing loss (MHL) and is a combination of both SNHL and CHL.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) typically affects five to 27 per 100,000 people annually. In the United States, there are approximately 66,000 new cases of SSNHL every year. In 30-60 percent of cases of SSNHL, the patients also experience dizziness. However, the majority of cases of SSHNL (about 90 percent) do not have a clear cause and are therefore called idiopathic. Sudden hearing loss can happen in one ear or both, although it is far more rare for SHL to occur in both ears.
No matter the type or cause of sudden hearing loss, it is a very frightening condition. SHL also causes obvious changes to the patient’s quality of life, especially since the condition occurs so suddenly. It is essential that medical professionals recognize and properly treat SHL in order to improve the patient’s chances of hearing recovery and quality of life. To aid medical professionals in this endeavor, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation recently published an updated version of their guideline on treating sudden hearing loss.
The purpose of the guideline – and its update – is to assist medical professionals in promptly recognizing and managing sudden hearing loss. With prompt recognition and management, the patient has a greater likelihood of recovering their hearing and improving their quality of life. Seth R. Schwartz, MD, MPH served as the methodologist for both the original 2012 guideline and its update in 2019. He states, “While the original guideline was a big step, this update provides an opportunity to improve diagnostic accuracy, facilitate prompt intervention, reduce unnecessary tests, and improve hearing and rehabilitative outcomes for patients.”
The update includes guidelines that assist medical professionals in differentiating between CHL and SNHL in cases of sudden hearing loss. In the case of SSNHL, the guideline provides evidence-based recommendations for identifying, assessing, and treating patients.
If you would like to learn more about sudden hearing loss and how it is treated, or if you believe that you or a loved one may be experiencing sudden hearing loss, we encourage you to contact our audiology office today. Our skilled audiologist and team are prepared to assist you and provide you with the information you need.


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