Understanding Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL): Causes and Diagnosis

Imagine waking up one morning, and suddenly, the world around you sounds muffled, as if someone turned down the volume on life. For some individuals, this scenario is not a hypothetical one but a reality they face. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, is a medical emergency that can strike swiftly, leaving those affected bewildered and anxious. In this blog, we will delve into SSHL, exploring its causes, and how it is diagnosed.

Part A: What is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL)?

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, often abbreviated as SSHL, is an alarming condition characterized by an unexplained and rapid loss of hearing, typically occurring in just one ear. This abrupt hearing impairment can manifest suddenly, in an instant, or progressively over several days. It's crucial to emphasize that SSHL should be treated as a medical emergency. Delaying diagnosis and treatment may hinder the effectiveness of interventions.

Diagnosing SSHL involves conducting a hearing test, specifically a pure tone audiometry. This test measures the degree of hearing loss in decibels across various frequencies (representing different pitches of sound). A significant indicator of SSHL is a hearing loss of at least 30 decibels in three different frequencies. To put this in perspective, a 30-decibel hearing loss might render conversational speech as barely audible, akin to a whisper.

Individuals experiencing SSHL may have varied experiences. Some may wake up in the morning to discover their hearing loss, while others notice it when attempting to use the affected ear, such as during a phone call. There are instances where SSHL is accompanied by dizziness, ringing in the ears (known as tinnitus), or both, often followed by an unsettling, loud "pop" before hearing loss occurs.

It's noteworthy that approximately half of SSHL cases will witness some degree of spontaneous recovery, usually within one to two weeks. Seeking treatment from an otolaryngologist, a specialist in ear, nose, throat, and neck disorders, significantly enhances the chances of hearing recovery. In fact, 85% of patients who receive prompt medical attention can expect some degree of improvement.

Experts estimate that SSHL affects one person per 5,000 every year, primarily striking adults in their 40s and 50s. However, the actual incidence of SSHL could be much higher due to frequent underdiagnosis. Many individuals experience a swift recovery and never seek medical assistance.

Part B: What Causes Sudden Deafness?

While SSHL remains mysterious in many cases, only 10 to 15 percent of those diagnosed have an identifiable cause. The most commonly recognized causes include:

Infectious Diseases: Certain infections can lead to SSHL, affecting the inner ear's delicate sensory cells.

Trauma: Head injuries, particularly those involving the ear, can induce SSHL.

Autoimmune Diseases: Conditions like Cogan's syndrome, where the body's immune system attacks its tissues, can lead to hearing loss.

Ototoxic Drugs: Some medications can harm the sensory cells in the inner ear, resulting in SSHL.

Blood Circulation Problems: Poor blood circulation to the inner ear can compromise hearing function.

Tumor Growth: A tumor on the nerve connecting the ear to the brain can exert pressure, causing hearing loss.

Neurologic Diseases: Conditions like multiple sclerosis may affect hearing.

Inner Ear Disorders: Diseases like Ménière's disease can trigger SSHL.

Part C: How is Sudden Deafness Diagnosed?

Diagnosing SSHL typically involves a series of tests conducted by an audiologist. The cornerstone of diagnosis is pure tone audiometry, which assesses the extent of hearing loss and helps differentiate between conductive and sensorineural deficits.

If SSHL is confirmed, additional tests may be ordered to identify an underlying cause. These can encompass blood tests, imaging (often MRI), and balance assessments.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss is a bewildering and unsettling condition that demands immediate medical attention. Its rapid onset and often unexplained nature underscore the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. While SSHL can spontaneously improve, seeking the expertise of an otolaryngologist significantly enhances the chances of hearing restoration.

If you or someone you know experiences SSHL, remember that prompt medical intervention is crucial. With advances in audiology, many individuals regain some or all of their lost hearing, restoring the symphony of life's sounds. To book an appointment for a FREE Hearing Test and Trial call us at 96 5839 5839.