When to worry about sudden hearing loss and what to do about it.
Nine years ago, Richard Einhorn woke up in a hotel room at 5 a.m., “my head buzzing with a strange loud noise,” the 67-year-old New York City music composer recalled.
Startled, he jumped out of bed, and promptly fell over. “I couldn’t stand up, I was so dizzy,” he says.
He then realized that he had lost all hearing on his right side.
Einhorn took a taxi to the nearest emergency room, where he was told that his symptoms pointed to a condition called sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or SSNHL.
This condition, sometimes also called sudden deafness, is an unexplained or rapid loss of hearing — one that is not caused by a “noise trauma,” such as an exploding firecracker right next to the ear.
Marked by inflammation of the inner ear, SSNHL usually affects only one ear. As it was in Einhorn’s experience, SSNHL may be accompanied by tinnitus (ringing of the ears) and vertigo.
SSNHL strikes about 66,000 people in the United States every year, according to an American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) clinical practice guideline published in August.
Although it can develop at any age, SSNHL is most often seen in adults in their late 40s or early 50s.
“It can be very scary for patients — it’s not only disorienting to not be able to hear, but with these symptoms, people worry they’re experiencing a life-threatening emergency such as a stroke,” explains Seth Schwartz, an otolaryngologist at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle and a co-author of the guideline.
Here’s what you need to know — and do — if you experience sudden hearing loss.
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Jan. 20, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. CST