Health & Fitness

Sudden Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know

When we think about hearing loss, we often associate it with symptoms that comes with old age or prolong exposure to loud sounds without the use of proper ear protection.

However that’s not always the case. Sudden Hearing Loss (SHL) is a condition that takes away your sense of hearing without having any pre-existing illness. It can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender.

Imagine waking up one morning and then you suddenly realize your left ear isn’t picking up any sound. It might sound like a fun writing prompt but SHL can happen to anyone at any given time.

It is estimated that 1 per 5,000 suffer from SHL every year and typically affects adults in their 40s and 50s.

According to the US-based National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, only 10% to 15% of people that are diagnosed with SHL have identifiable causes. Among them are auto immune disease, infectious disease, or having tumor on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain.

Scientists say that one probable cause is upper respiratory viral infection that affects the nerve that connects to the inner ear to the brain. The virus then attacks the nerves causing the ear to be damaged.

What happens if you suspect you have SHL?

Some people that experience SHL have no symptoms at all. There are some who also report having a bad flu a few weeks prior.

Patients who suspect they have SHL are subjected to a series of hearing tests over a six month period.
After the six months, if their hearing does not improve then it is unlikely that things will get better.

How is it diagnosed?

Patients are first checked for allergies, sinus infection, earwax plugging the ear canal or other common conditions. Doctors then make sure to rule out if the patients suffer from any tumor or mild stroke.

SHL is then diagnosed if the tests show a lost of at least 30 decibels (a measure of sound) in three connected frequencies. A loss of 30 decibles will make conversational speech sound like whisper.

Is there any way to treat SHL?

If the damage is minimal, patients are usually given a short dosage of oral steriods or vitamins that help ear recovery. But if the hearing loss is bad, the prognosis might not improve.

Is there any advice to avoid SHL?

Eventhough SHL cannot be prevented or predicted. To maintain good hearing, ear, nose and throat surgeon Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh advices people not to hear loud sounds for long periods of time as the ears have a certain threshold for sound.

Sudden burst of 100 to 200 decibels can burst the eardrum and not only that, the shock that goes into the inner can fracture the hair cells and this cannot be regenerated.

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