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Best Practices Checklist

Clogged Ears Due to EARWAX or MEDICAL EMERGENCY? | Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL)

By: Dr Cliff Olson
November 18, 2019
Video Transcript

The vast majority of the time, hearing loss has a gradual onset and affects both ears at the same time.  However, in some instances, hearing loss comes at the snap of a finger, like if you wake up in the morning and can't hear out of one ear, or if you hear a loud "POP" in one ear and suddenly your hearing is gone.

Most people feel that these sudden cases of hearing loss are just caused by excessive earwax buildup blocking sound from entering the ear.  The thought is that you could just use a Q-tip to clean out the ear or just flush your ear with peroxide and the blockage would go away.  However, what if I told you that in some cases a Sudden hearing loss like this is actually a Medical Emergency, that requires IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION?

A Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss or SSHL, is a medical condition where there is a significant decline in hearing that occurs almost instantly.  SSHL is defined as a hearing loss of 30 decibles at 3 or more consecutive frequencies, that happens quickly, and most often affects only 1 ear.  This isn't a conductive hearing loss like you would receive from a plug of earwax or fluid in your ear.  

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Losses are medical emergencies and you should seek medical attention from an ear specialist like an Otolaryngologist (ENT) or an Otologist as soon as possible.  Appropriate diagnosis and treatment in a timely manner are critical if you want any shot of getting your hearing restored.  Sometimes medical professionals that are not ear specialists can misdiagnose a SSHL as congestion or fluid buildup.  As a result, you may not receive the proper treatment in a timely manner.  

To appropriately diagnose a Sudden Loss, a Physician or Audiologist will look in your ears to check for earwax or other abnormalities.  An Audiologist will perform a comprehensive hearing evaluation that includes Pure Tone Air and Bone conduction testing, Speech testing, Tympanometry, and even Acoustic Reflex testing.  Your ENT or Otologist may also order an MRI or CT scan to ensure that the sudden loss wasn't caused by a Tumor in your brain or on your auditory nerve.  They may also order some other testing to determine the cause of the hearing loss.  

The sooner you receive treatment, the more likely you are to have partial or fully restored hearing.  Without treatment, you may receive spontaneous recovery within 2 weeks, but if the loss lasts for over 2-3 months, the damage is likely permanent.  This is why opting NOT to receive treatment isn't worth the risk.

Oral steroids are the most common initial treatment for sudden sensorineural hearing loss. After taking the entire prescription, your hearing should be evaluated to determine if there has been any improvement.  

If oral steroids do not improve your hearing, Transtympanic Steroid Injections may be recommended.  This is when a physician injects steroids, through your eardrum, into your middle ear space.  This can also help to prevent side effects compared to high dose oral steroid treatments.  If your hearing does not return to normal with treatment, then you may have to consider treatment options that include:

1. Hearing Aids - https://youtu.be/cHR0Oa6I-wY

‚Äć2. CROS Devices - https://youtu.be/16LC2FYu1-U

‚Äć3. Bone Anchored Devices - https://youtu.be/OUWpkrU_bIw

‚Äć4. or a Cochlear Implant - https://youtu.be/FjmnAM0g87E

‚ÄćSudden Hearing Loss is no joke, if you notice a significant decrease in hearing, in one or both ears. ¬†Do NOT just assume that you have Clogged ears due to Earwax or Fluid buildup. ¬†Go see your Physician or Audiologist as soon as possible so you can get an accurate diagnosis which will put you in a much better position to have your hearing restored.

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