Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
WHAT IS SUDDEN SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS?
Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL) is a medical emergency defined as an individual experiencing at least 30 dB (decibels) of sensorineural hearing loss occurring over a time period of three days or less. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear cochlea (the organ of hearing) or to the nerve pathways to the brain.
WHAT ARE THE DEGREES OF HEARING LOSS?
The degrees of hearing loss refer to the severity of the loss. There are five categories that are generally used to describe the degree of loss. The numbers below represent the softest intensity that sound delivered in decibels is perceived by an individual tested with pure tone air conduction testing.
- Normal hearing limits = 0 to 25 dB
- Mild Loss = 26 to 40 dB
- Moderate Loss = 41 to 60 dB
- Severe Loss = 61 to 80 dB
- Profound Loss = 81 + dB
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF SUDDEN SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS?
Sudden sensorineural hearing losses are most commonly associated with head trauma (such as a car accident), acoustic trauma (such as being too close to a gun or firecrackers when they explode), viral infections, tumors, decreased circulation to the inner ear, membrane breaks, medication for erectile dysfunction or ototoxic drug exposure. Hearing loss caused by an ear infection, sinus infection, or wax build up is conductive in nature and is generally temporary.
WHO SUFFERS FROM SUDDEN SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss affects approximately 5-20 people per 100,000 population per year. Males and females are affected equally with a mean age of 46 years.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR SUDDEN SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a complicated condition which must be fully evaluated by an otolaryngologist before a treatment plan can be established. The cause of the hearing loss is important to determine, if possible. It is essential that medical treatment be obtained quickly to have maximum hope of success. Pharmaceutical treatment including steroids and antiviral medications are generally less ineffective if started more than 14 days after the hearing loss is experienced and have the highest chance of success if started within three days from the onset of hearing loss. Permanent profound single sided sudden sensorineural hearing loss can be managed through the use of a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Appliance). Patients with permanent profound bilateral sudden sensorineural hearing loss are generally good simultaneous bilateral cochlear implant candidates.
Sudden sensorineural hearing losses requires immediate comprehensive medical examination and specialty care from an Otologist, who is an otolaryngologist (ENT) who has undergone two additional years of training and specializes in issues related hearing only. With appropriate medical treatment and therapy, individuals with SSHL can make a partial or even full recovery.
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