Sudden Hearing Loss
Why am I experiencing sudden deafness?
If you have experienced significant hearing loss all at once or over a few days in one or both ears, seek treatment immediately. You may have a serious condition known as sudden sensorineural (inner ear) hearing loss (SSHL) or sudden deafness. SSHL occurs from damage in the inner ear or in the nerve pathways between the ear and the brain.
Treatment outcomes depend on how quickly SSHL is diagnosed and treated. Time is of the essence to save your hearing. Because its cause is often mistaken as a symptom of a minor illness such as a sinus infection or allergy, many people delay treatment thinking their hearing will improve on its own.
Sudden hearing loss most frequently occurs in one ear. It may be accompanied by a loud pop. Some people describe it as a sensation of fullness or ringing in the ears. Others may experience balance difficulties and dizziness. Most commonly, normal conversations sound faint or muffled like whispers.
Diagnosis for SSHL
It takes a physical exam by a licensed physician to diagnose SSHL. The exam requires advanced equipment to properly measure and screen hearing loss by decibels.
Decibels measure the loudness of sounds. For example, a whisper is measured at 30 decibels and normal speech at 60. Typically, SSHL is disagnosed with the loss of at least 30 decibels over at least three connected test frequencies occurring within three days.
A diagnosis within 48 hours is best to treat sudden hearing loss with the least amount of permanent damage.
What is the cause of my hearing loss?
For 90 percent of people with SSHL, the underlying cause of hearing loss is unknown. Because it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause, it’s challenging for doctors to determine the most effective treatment plan. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Known causes of sudden hearing loss
Only 10 percent of SSHL cases have an identifiable cause. They include:
- Viral infections
- Bacterial infections
- Vascular occlusion (blockage)
- Cochlear membrane breaks in the inner ear
- Autoimmune disease
- Neurological disorders
- Neoplasms (growths of abnormal tissue like tumors)
- Ototoxic drugs (drugs that harm the ears)
- Psychogenic causes
- Congential defects
- Other causes
Unknown causes of sudden hearing loss
The other 90 percent of people experience hearing loss from damage of unknown origin called idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (ISHL). “Idiopathic” means any disease or condition that spontaneously occurs and with an unknown cause.
Since it’s difficult to expedite the best treatment plan, patients should consider the hearing loss as an emergency to buy time. HyOx believes treatment must begin within 48 hours for the highest chance of recovery.
Many researchers believe many ISHL cases are caused by a viral infection or triggered by an autoimmune response. In particular, a small study noted that patients with ISHL were more than three times more likely than the general population to test positive for anti-endothelial cell antibodies.
In the study, researchers tested for antibodies that fight antigens in the tissue of blood vessel inner walls. As a result, the presence of these antibodies implied ISHL is associated swelling in the inner ear blood vessels. Other researchers associated ISHL with an increased risk of clotting in the blood vessels due to genetics.
In many of these sudden hearing loss cases, swelling or inflammation is the direct cause. However, in cases where the cause is unknown, it’s likely a combination of inflammation and a lack of oxygen.
What is the best treatment for sudden hearing loss?
Traditionally, there are two approaches to treating the typical case of SSHL. First, most healthcare professionals focus on the immune response causing inflammation in the inner ear by prescribing steroids, or topically, through the use of an injection.
To increase blood flow and decrease inflammation, another treatment approach is to focus on improving oxygen levels by breathing 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized hyperbaric chamber.
An either/or approach is not efficient. In the case of a blocked blood vessel in the inner ear, steroids will do little. Utilizing hyperbaric oxygen therapy with steriod treatment is the best chance for improving sudden hearing loss. Ask your healthcare professional to prescribe both treatments at the same time.
According to a review of SSNL treatments published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, one of the most controversial topics is the treatment of SSHL. The authors state, “the most common approach to treatment of SSNL in North America is with systemic steriods, which is deemed by some authors to be the gold standard of treatment.” Yet, the review revealed that hyperbaric oxygen therapy, in combination with steroids, delivered a greater rate of improvement.
The authors cited a study in which 34 patients received hyperbaric oxygen plus standard treatment of oral steriods versus 21 patients who received standard treatment alone. The researchers found a greater rate of improvement in the hyperbaric oxygen patients.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves severe cases of ISHL in almost all cases, if the therapy is started early enough. The Cochrane Review found this result as well, due to the therapeutic effects oxygen on the body.
Can hyperbaric oxygen therapy help me recover from sudden hearing loss?
The answer is yes. The reason hyperbaric oxygen therapy works to improve sudden hearing loss is the connection between SSHL and oxygen supply to the inner ear. An issue in the inner ear is preventing normal blood flow. Consequently, it activates the connection between SSHL and a lack of oxygen.
Returning oxygen levels to normal by breathing in 100 percent oxygen under pressure may reverse most of the damaging side effects of SSHL, including inflammation. As a result, the chances of improving or regaining hearing improves.
A number of other studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association say hyperbaric medicine used with steriods greatly enhanced outcomes in SSHL cases. The best practice is to combine the two treatments to achieve the best possible outcome for sudden hearing loss as quickly as possible.
Why HyOx should treat your sudden hearing loss
Hyox is one of the first hyperbaric clinics in Georgia and one of the first accredited hyperbaric treatment facilities in the United States. Because our board-certified physicians remain at the top of their sub-specialty, we deliver the most advanced treatment and care.
HyOx features the largest hyperbaric chambers in Georgia. Hyperbaric oxgyen therapy for sudden hearing loss and other approved conditions is available at two locations in Metro Atlanta – Gwinnett and NW Atlanta.
Many medical professionals believe treatments offer a little to no chance of improving hearing loss. However, at HyOx, we believe it doesn’t have to be permanent. We believe hyperbaric medicine for sudden hearing loss is over-simplified and under-used.
Can hearing loss recover with hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
It’s important to be your own advocate in an effort to reverse hearing loss. Because hyperbaric oxgyen delivers greater improvement rates, combining treatments is your best chance to recover hearing.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a sudden hearing loss accompanied by fullness, ringing, a difficulty hearing high pitches, and an unability to hear background sounds or conversations, please contact us or call 678-303-3200.
Don’t miss the 48-hour window to begin hyperbaric oxygen therapy so you have the best chance at recovering as much of your hearing as possible.