Sudden changes in hearing can be very upsetting and unsettling for a person. These changes can be temporary and caused by something as benign as cerumen impaction or otitis media.
Other times it can be symptomatic of an underlying severe issue, including head trauma, autoimmune diseases, exposure to certain medications (such as those to treat cancer or severe infection), blood circulation problems, and neurological disorders. All can cause sudden changes to an individual’s hearing.
One of the most common causes of sudden sensorineural hearing loss is viral infection. This can cause a swelling in the affected nerve which can lead to blood flow interruption to the cochlea. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is considered by otologists to be a true otologic emergency.
If you have a patient present with sudden hearing changes, time is of the essence. If you can see them immediately to rule out cerumen impaction and/or obvious otitis media then do so.
Many current treatments for sudden sensorineural hearing loss are time sensitive and must be acted upon immediately. The current standard treatment for sudden hearing loss is a tapered course of oral high-dose corticosteroids to increase circulation to the inner ear.
Preferably a same-day appointment with an Otolaryngologist or Otologist should be made. If that isn’t possible, sending the patient to the emergency department may be warranted for immediate treatment.
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