What is sudden sensorineural hearing loss?

A pencil gliding on paper as he writes lyrics. The audience singing along to his songs. The sound of his girlfriend’s voice. All of these experiences are suddenly gone within a few hours for Ruben, the main character in the recently released film, “The Sound of Metal.”

In the movie, Ruben suffers what is perceived as a sudden hearing loss, turning his professional and personal life upside down. But what exactly is sudden sensorineural hearing loss?

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Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is an unexplained loss of hearing that occurs at once or rapidly over a few days and affects the inner ear mechanism. It can sometimes occur with other symptoms such as tinnitus (ringing in the ear), ear fullness, or dizziness. Common causes of sudden hearing loss include head trauma, neurological disorders, infections, and disorders of the inner ear.

A sudden sensorineural hearing loss is considered a medical emergency, and those who experience it should reach out to an audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist immediately for appropriate testing. This includes audiometry or imaging.

Time is of the essence. In most cases, patients with sudden sensorineural hearing loss who report to clinic within the first two weeks of onset can be immediately treated. However, treatment can still be provided outside of this window. Many patients who don’t have other notable symptoms, such as a stroke, are treated with steroids that may help reverse or stabilize the hearing loss.

When the hearing loss is not responsive to medical treatment, we often recommend the use of hearing aids, bone anchored implants, or cochlear implants.

Reach out to your audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist to learn more information about this condition.

Learn more about Audiology Services at Baylor Medicine or call 713-798-5900 to schedule an appointment.

-By Dr. Deyanira Gonzalez, audiologist and Dr. Angela Peng, neurotologist at Baylor Medicine

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