Hearing loss, whether of gradual onset or sudden, is often dismissed as a non critical condition. Granted, it is not a life or death matter, but hearing is our primary connection to the world around us. And if it is missing, so is our ability to “connect” with family, friends, co-workers, etc. It is assumed by many professionals that “we all lose some hearing as we age, so it is just part of the process” and nothing is done to help these individuals.
Sudden hearing loss is particularly devastating. Patients’ lives are significantly affected by sudden hearing loss and overwhelming tinnitus. Functional deficits can be catastrophic. Generally, these patients are initially treated with antibiotics for their hearing loss but not given an audiometric evaluation. Then they usually experience aural fullness that lasts for days to several weeks. Commonly, they experience psychological difficulties, depression that affects their very quality of life.
It is usually not until this point that an audiologist or ENT physician is consulted. By this time, the benefits of treatment can be limited or lost. Sudden hearing loss should be treated much more aggressively and immediately than current standards of practice. If treated promptly, hearing improvement, if not hearing recovery, and patient quality of life are possible.
If treated as an ENT/audiological emergency, early diagnostic testing (site of lesion), counseling, sound therapy, and tinnitus treatment can substantially reduce the effects of sudden hearing loss. In the case of sudden hearing loss, a referral should be made to an ENT physician within 24 to 48 hours.
With immediate action, a greater benefit and lessened burden will be seen for the patient.
Kathryn Sandusky, AuD, FAAA, is owner of Central Kentucky Audiology in Lexington. Reach her at (859) 277-5090.