Remember the Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye TV show? It was about an FBI agent who lost her hearing, very suddenly, as a child. That situation wasn’t the creation of some TV writer’s mind; it happened. There really was a Sue Thomas, who went suddenly and profoundly deaf at the age of 18 months (due, it has been suggested, to the early effects of multiple sclerosis).
We don’t often see such dramatic situations, but we do see people with rapid-onset hearing loss. For the majority of them, the culprit is SSNHL (Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss) affecting the inner ear.
Usually happening in only one ear, SSNHL is a sudden and unexplained drop in hearing that develops over a few hours or a few days. The actual cause can only be figured out about 10% to 15% of the time but viral infections are suspected in some 60% of cases.
How many people develop SSNHL? A lot of cases go unreported, but it is estimated that there are 5 to 20 for every 100,000 people. Most patients are between ages 50 and 60. About one third recover completely and another third partially.
Should SSNHL happen to you, please take it as seriously as you would the sudden loss of vision; your chances are better when SSNHL is identified early. Treatment often includes high doses of steroids with the best results happening when they are given very soon after the onset of hearing loss.
For those who retain some level of hearing loss, “Audiologic management” becomes a priority through the use of devices such as hearing aids and even counseling on how to prevent hearing loss from taking its toll at home and in the workplace.