Sudden Hearing Loss (SHL) is a mysterious syndrome of the inner ear or nerve in which hearing can be partially or totally lost in a period of minutes or days. One or both ears may be involved, and it is often accompanied by dizziness or ringing in the ears.
Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss
The inner ear, or cochlea, is one of the most delicate organs of the body. This extreme delicateness prevents us from looking into the cochlea without injuring it. Unfortunately, this means that we rarely know the cause of SHL with certainty.
Nonetheless, likely causes include viral infections, immune and circulation problems, as well as Meniere’s disease. Rarer causes include tumors of the inner ear, head injury, and “barotraumas” such as from scuba diving.
Diagnosis of Sudden Hearing Loss
To determine the cause of your hearing loss, several tests are typically recommended. First, a thorough hearing test is needed to look at the exact degree of hearing loss. You will require several follow-up hearing tests to check your progress. Blood tests are often used to rule out infections or immune problems. An MRI scan is often needed to assure there are no cysts or tumors of the hearing nerve that goes to the brain, whereas a CAT scan may be used to look at the inner ear structures within the bone.
Treatments for Sudden Hearing Loss
Treatment is based upon your history, hearing loss, and test results. Two of the most effective treatments include steroids and water pills (diuretics). Steroids reduce inflammation and may be given for short or long periods. Diuretics can help lower inner ear pressure in combination with a diet avoiding salt, caffeine, and nicotine.
Sudden hearing loss may improve, stay the same, or get worse. Occasionally, the hearing loss is permanent. If your hearing loss does not improve, a hearing aid may be beneficial. If both ears are totally deaf, a cochlear implant maybe helpful.