March 31, 2020
Jon woke up and knew something wasn’t quite right. His left ear seemed muffled, and he heard weird, static-like pops. On his way to work, he called in to see what time his first patient was scheduled. Holding his phone to his left ear like always, he realized his hearing was very poor on that side and switched to the right ear. Once he arrived at work, he asked a coworker, an Audiologist, to check his hearing. The doctor tested him and compared the audiogram to one Jon had done a couple months ago. As expected, he showed a sudden hearing loss in his left ear.
Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (ISSHL) is defined as any sudden decrease in hearing, typically one-sided, without known trauma or noise exposure. Like Jon, folks who experience ISSHL may first notice this change when they wake up unable to hear with one ear or when they answer the phone with that ear. Some notice a rapid decrease over several days, or they could hear a loud “pop” before their hearing disappears. Other symptoms may include dizziness, ringing or other noises in the affected ear, and distorted or muffled hearing. The ear and eardrum typically look normal, so it can only be diagnosed with a hearing test.
Jon worked in an audiology clinic and he knew exactly what to do. He made an emergency appointment with his doctor to get a referral to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor. He took a copy of his hearing test with him to the ENT that same morning and the ear specialist was able to recognize ISSHL and promptly started Jon on a prescription of steroids.
It is easy to misdiagnose ISSHL as a symptom of a cold, an ear infection, or allergies. This is dangerous as ISSHL has a time limit – studies have shown that if ISSHL is properly treated within the first three days, most of the reduced hearing could return to normal, although hearing often remains somewhat impaired. If you take the “wait and see” approach, the hearing loss will likely become permanent. It is because of this timeline and permanency that ISSHL is considered a medical emergency and should be treated as such. Immediate referral to an ENT should occur in order to have the issue properly and promptly diagnosed and treated.
Jon was lucky; he was able to start a prescription the same day he noticed his sudden hearing loss. Due to his prompt action, Jon’s hearing returned to normal over the course of a couple weeks.
The best course of action if you are experiencing sudden hearing loss is to call your physician for a referral to an Audiologist or ENT doctor as soon as possible. And remember: we would much prefer that you cry wolf and have earwax blocking your hearing than have you “tough it out” and potentially lose your hearing permanently! Below are some local ENTs that you may contact in case of this medical emergency, or, as always, we would be happy to help when you call us at (541) 228-9233.
Oregon Medical Group ENT: (541) 334-3370
PeaceHealth Audiology and ENT: 458) 205-6500
Oregon ENT (Garden Way): (541) 349-9333
Oregon ENT (Willagillespie): (541) 302-1420
Research on Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss: