As we age, we often conclude that our hearing has gotten worse over time. Age-related hearing loss is an incredibly common result of the natural aging process, and most of us understand that our hearing will depreciate as we get older. But what happens when hearing loss comes on all of a sudden without years of build-up? Sudden Hearing Loss (SHL) can be a terrifying symptom for those suffering unexpectedly. Affecting up to 27 for every 100,000 people and over 66,000 new cases in the US annually, understanding what may cause SHL, what signs to look for, and when to seek treatment can help dramatically improve your quality of life and improve hearing recovery.
For these purposes, The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) have published new updates to their SHL guidelines, hoping new information will make a difference according to Seth R. Schwartz, MD, MPH, the methodologist for this update, “Prompt recognition and management of sudden sensorineural hearing loss may improve hearing recovery and quality of life. That is the overarching objective and purpose of this guideline update.”
What Is Sudden Hearing Loss?
Defined as a “rapid-onset subjective sensation of hearing impairment in one or both ears”, SHL can manifest in three ways: Conductive Hearing Loss (CHL), Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL), or a mixture of both occurring in the same ear. CHL occurs when problems transferring sound waves through the outer ear arise, while SNHL is attributed to damaged cochlear sensory cells. Though Conductive Hearing Loss may be brought on by an abnormality in the ear canal, “eardrum”, or middle ear, both types of hearing loss can be brought on by many causes ranging from neurological disorders or infections, to head trauma or exposure to certain medications.
With many risk factors and variables involved, SHL can be a frightening condition to undertake for many patients with lifelong ramifications. If left untreated, an average of 25 to 30% of patients with SSNHL will achieve some level of spontaneous improvement, although not always back to their normal hearing level. If treatment is sought immediately, recovery rates improve to 50% or even more in some cases.
What Updates Have Been Made?
Knowing the importance of early detection and treatment, updates to the AAO-HNSF’s SHL guidelines were vital. Though the 2012 guidelines were crafted with the most current research at the time, medical science is constantly advancing, opening up room for improvement when it comes to treatment. Improvements such as addressing the need to distinguish SSNHL from CHL in patients who have shown initial signs of hearing loss, as well as clarify the need to identify “rare, nonidiopathic, sensorineural hearing loss” to help separate those patients from others who suffer from Idiopathic Sensorineural Hearing Loss (ISSNHL), a target population that this update addresses. Schwartz hopes that these updates will better suit the medical community when treating SHL, concluding “While the original guideline was a big step, this update provides an opportunity to improve diagnostic accuracy, facilitate prompt intervention, reduce unnecessary tests, and improve hearing and rehabilitative outcomes for patients.”