Dave* came into the office on Friday morning and wanted us to check his right hearing aid because he hasn’t been hearing well the past few days. The Audiologist began by asking Dave when he first started to notice that he wasn’t hearing well, and what other symptoms he had. Dave reported all the typical warning signs of a sudden hearing loss that began two days prior, coinciding with what he thought was a cold.

Hearing Loss is Usually in One Ear

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) can happen in one day or over a few days, and typically only happens in one ear. It is defined as a decrease in hearing of 30 decibels in at least three connected frequencies. You may wake up with a fullness or pressure in the ears and notice that you aren’t hearing as well as usual. Some people also experience tinnitus or ringing in the affected ear,as well as dizziness. Don’t just dismiss these symptoms as a cold, flu or ears that need to be “popped”.

Significant Decrease in Hearing

The Audiologist completed a full audiological exam on Dave, which revealed a significant decrease in hearing thresholds since his prior audiogram one year before. Dave’s hearing loss was sensorineural in nature, and was not due to “congestion” which would indicate a conductive hearing loss.

Immediate Action is Needed

Anyone who notices a sudden change in their hearing should immediately contact their Audiologist, Otolaryngologist, or go to the nearest emergency room if help cannot be reached after hours. A thorough exam, including an audiogram, otoscopy, and case history will be conducted to determine the next steps.

Do Not Dismiss Sudden Changes In Your Hearing

After Dave’s sudden sensorineural hearing losswas detected, the audiologist found an otolaryngologist that could see Dave that afternoon, as immediate treatment is paramount in the case of SSHL. In most cases, steroids will help decrease inflammation, reduce swelling and combat illness to regain some hearing sensitivity. Other testing may be needed, but the most important first step is immediate action when symptoms are first noticed. Do not dismiss any sudden changes in your hearing as a cold, allergies, flu, or ears plugged with wax.

* Name and image changed to protect patient anonymity.

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Dr. Ana Anzola, CCC-A, FAAA, ABA Principal

Dr. Anzola received her Doctorate degree in Audiology (AuD) from the Arizona School of Health Sciences, and her Master’s Degree in Audiology and her Bachelor's Degree in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology from Towson University. She has been a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) since 1995, board-certified by the American Board of Audiology (ABA), and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).