Recognising SSHL

Now I do not pretend to be a Doctor or to know everything about Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) but whilst I was off work for a long period after my diagnosis, I confess I did become a bit obsessed with learning about this particular type of hearing loss.

I know there are probably hundreds (if not thousands) of reasons and medical explanations as to why people develop a hearing loss and obviously it varies from person to person, but I wanted to focus on SSHL because it appears to be a lesser known condition and it is one that can be very sudden and dramatic, with no real known cause.

I believe it is important for people to be aware of the symptoms of this and how to reduce the potential impact it can have because it can happen to ANYONE. That’s right, it doesn’t matter whether you already have a hearing loss or are prone to hearing deterioriation, it can just as easily occur in a “normal hearing” person. The effects, however, are just as dramatic for anyone.

The Facts:

  • Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss is commonly known as Sudden Deafness.
  • SSHL happens when the inner ear or the nerve pathways between the ear and the brain become damaged.
  • It occurs as an unexplained and rapid loss of hearing, usually in one ear but sometimes in both.
  • It can occur suddenly all at once or over the course of several days.
  • It is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY and should be treated as such.
  • Delaying the diagnosis of SSHL and treatment can decrease the effectiveness of treatment.
  • SSHL is diagnosed after conducting a pure tone audiogram, or a hearing test to you and me.
  • It is classed as a loss of at least 30 decibels in three connected frequencies.
  • A hearing loss of 30 decibels would make conversational speech sound more like a whisper.
  • It is estimated that SSHL occurs in one person per 5,000 every year.

Only approximately 10-15% of people diagnosed with SSHL have an identifiable cause which can include but is not limited to the following;

  • Infectious disease
  • Head trauma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Blood circulation problems
  • A tumour on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain
  • Disorders of the ear, such as Meniere’s Disease.

Most patients diagnosed with SSHL have no known cause of SSHL and it is attributed to a ‘viral infection’.

Symptoms:

Some of the common symptoms to be aware of;

  • A loud ‘pop’ in the affected ear (similar to when you get off a plane).
  • Dizziness.
  • Feeling of being underwater.
  • Muted hearing.
  • Ringing in the ear (Tinnitus).
  • Trouble understanding speech.
  • Experiencing sounds that feel too loud immediately prior to hearing loss.

Treatment:

It is thought that about half of people diagnosed with SSHL will spontaneously recover some if not all of their hearing within 1-2 weeks of the beginning of symptoms, however, that is not the case for all and the belief that it may return should not delay anyone from seeking treatment urgently.

Experts estimate that  85% of those who recieve treatment from an ENT (Ear Nose Throat) consultant will recover some of their hearing.

Because the direct cause of SSHL is mostly unknown, the most common method of treament is steroids, either orally in pill form or injected directly into the ear. However, it is imperative that steroids are administered within 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms for the best chance of regaining lost hearing. It is believe that if the treatment is delayed by 72 hours or more, the steroids will very likely be ineffective.

As the cause of SSHL (in most cases) cannot be easily identified, your ENT consultant should send you for an MRI and CT scan in order to rule out a brain trauma or tumour.

Getting the right treatment:

If you experience any or all of the above mentioned symptoms you should seek medical help URGENTLY. The best way of ensuring correct diagnosis and treatment is by seeing an ENT consultant; this can be done through a GP referral if you are not already under the care of one. You will need to explain that it is urgent and let them know you think you need to have a pure tone audiogram (hearing test).

I hope that this information has been of some use; if you are at all worried about your hearing in any way, please do seek the advice of a trained ENT consultant or audiologist.

Your hearing is precious and should be treated like so.

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3 thoughts on “Recognising SSHL

  1. Really interesting, it’s 3 years on 24th March I woke up with muffled hearing in my right ear. I didn’t think much of it as the previous night had been out in extremely cold windy conditions, by mid afternoon I couldnt follow conversation and went to bed early. Next morning I couldn’t lift my head off bed without room spinning .I didn’t realise what was wrong, my son who had popped in thought I had norovirus so disappearred quickly and it was 4 days before someone realised I needed to see a doctor. My hearing loss was total, it’s also affected my balance mechanism. No one knows what caused it and I’m still struggling

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    1. I’m so sorry to hear your story Edwina, it appears SSHL is far more common that previously thought and most people have no clue why or how it happened.
      My blog (and now, book!!) is full of practical tips & advice on how to cope with hearing loss as well as details of people who can help, I hope it will be of some help to you! Feel free to message me anytime with any queries or if you just want some support! Laura @ The Invisible Disability And Me.

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