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What Is Sudden Hearing Loss and How You Can Prevent It

The sound of an alarm clock buzzing at 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning is a real drag for those of us who are not morning people, and often results in the use of the snooze button once or twice. But have you ever stopped to wonder what would happen if you suddenly couldn’t hear the alarm as clearly? If one day you woke up to a muffled-sounding alarm clock? Although rare, sudden hearing loss—a significant loss of hearing within a short time frame—is a real source of anxiety for those who experience it. It is most common among men and women between the ages of 30 and 60. The majority of sufferers wake up experiencing a dramatic reduction in their hearing capabilities, while others say the loss rapidly declines as the day progresses. In the majority of cases, often only one ear is affected. If this sounds like something you’re experiencing, don’t delay in seeing a doctor as you could be experiencing a medical emergency. In any discussion on sudden hearing loss, it’s important to point out that it has a somewhat misleading name, as the people who experience it do not lose their hearing suddenly, rather, they experience a dramatic reduction in hearing in a small time frame, which medical professionals have deemed 72 hours or less. Studies on sudden hearing loss are ongoing, but in simplest terms, the condition occurs when the inner ear or the nerve pathways between the ear and the brain become damaged. It is sometimes the result of a head trauma, but can also be related to complications from infectious diseases, metabolic problems, or neurological issues. As with most other ailments, sudden hearing loss affects everyone differently, but is often coupled with Tinnitus or vertigo. People report hearing loss ranging from mild to severe, and test results on these patients reveal losses in different areas of the hearing frequency range. Fortunately, sudden hearing loss is a treatable condition, and doesn’t necessarily require the use of a hearing aid moving forward.

Diagnosing Sudden Hearing Loss

To determine whether or not you are experiencing sudden hearing loss, an audiologist will conduct a visual examination and attempt to rule out other issues that might have caused your dramatic hearing loss. First, the practitioner must determine whether or not your sudden hearing loss is the result of an ear wax impaction or an ear infection by simply taking a look in the ear. If ear wax is found deep inside, or evidence of an infection is present, a patient who may have thought they were experiencing sudden hearing loss actually receives a milder diagnosis and is treated quickly. If the culprit is not ear wax and is not a lingering symptom of a bad head cold, then the quality of your hearing is tested. To be ruled a sudden hearing loss, the test must reveal a loss of at least 30 decibels in three connected frequencies (pitches). To put it into perspective, this much hearing loss would bring the voices around the breakfast table down to the tone of a whisper. Once sudden hearing loss is suspected, a hearing specialist’s further evaluation includes a look into your medical history, followed by a physical examination and possibly some blood work to determine if the cause of your sudden hearing loss is due to systemic causes (metabolic, autoimmune or circulatory disorders). If you’re curious about the current quality of your hearing, it’s always a good idea to book a baseline test so you’ll be able to learn right away where your hearing health is at. Start with a Beltone office visit if you’ve never been to a hearing care clinic before.

Preventing Sudden Hearing Loss

Depending on the cause of your sudden hearing loss, which can be difficult for practitioners to pinpoint, the effects of the condition may be temporary or permanent. The number one way to prevent sudden hearing loss is to live a healthy lifestyle. Because head trauma, infectious diseases, and circulatory problems are all known causes of sudden hearing loss, preventing these issues in the first place will help. Always wear a helmet when playing contact sports and riding a bike, and treat sinus infections before they get worse. Keep an eye on your weight, get enough sleep, and don’t smoke! Follow the common advice audiologists give to protect your everyday hearing health, and finally, take a look at the medications you are taking. There are many medications known to adversely affect the human auditory system, and the list continues to climb. Check with your audiologist if you’re concerned about what the drugs you are taking are doing to your sensory systems, especially if one day your morning alarm clock sounds a little quieter than normal and there is a distinct ringing sound in one of your ears. If you are concerned about sudden hearing loss now or in the future, Book an Appointment with Beltone Hearing Care Professional as soon as possible, or Contact Beltone and we would be happy to go over any questions you might have.

Ken LaFerle, Au.D.
Ken is Beltone's Director of Educational Services and has been "bleeding Beltone Blue" for the last 26 years. He has been working in the hearing industry for the last 31 years and thoroughly enjoys the hearing care field and is looking forward to sharing his thoughts and experiences on the blog. More about Ken

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