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Simply said

Acute hearing loss - What is it and how does it happen?

There is a sudden pressure in the ear and all noises sound dull and quiet. It’s as if somebody packed cotton wool in the ear or if somebody turned the speaker down. Many impacted by an acute hearing loss are familiar with this feeling. It comes out of nowhere, without warning.

$Without recognizable triggers, acute hearing loss can reduce the ability to hear. The sensory cells in the inner ear, in the cochlea, have impaired function. This most often occurs on one side. The reduced hearing can be characterized by different degrees of severity up to complete deafness. In addition, dizziness and tinnitus can occur. There is no pain; in rare cases, patients complain of a fuzzy feeling in the ear

An acute hearing loss used to be considered an emergency. Driven by panic, patients rushed to the doctor. Current studies have shown, however, that panic and stress are actually counterproductive. With a mild acute hearing loss, it is sufficient to see a doctor within 24-48 hours as long as there are no accompanying symptoms, such as dizziness, nausea, vision or speech impairments, which could indicate a more serious condition such as a stroke. If, however, the ear is completely deaf or the above symptoms occur, visit an ENT doctor as quickly as possible.

The causes of acute hearing loss

The causes of acute hearing loss are still unclear. Experts surmise that multiple factors play a role, primarily acute trauma and circulatory disorders in the inner ear. These lead to insufficient supply of sensory cells and in the worst cases, to loss of hearing. How do circulatory disorders occur? Medical practitioners surmise that spasms, swelling and injuries to the hair cells in the cochlea or disruptions to blood flow could be the trigger.

In addition, salt deficiency, inner ear infections as well as nerve damage could be responsible. However, chronic stress as well as insufficient movement, excess consumption of alcohol and smoking influence the occurrence of illness and can increase the risk of an acute hearing loss. Metabolic disorders such as diabetes or physical injuries such as cervical vertebrae disorders due to whiplash can negatively impact certain frequencies or hearing in general. Men suffer from acute hearing loss more often than women, whereas children seldom suffer from acute hearing loss.

Possible causes:

  • Stress
  • Viral infections or reactivations (e.g., herpes or chicken pox)
  • Arteriosclerosis and the resulting circulatory disorders
  • Metabolic diseases such as diabetes or high cholesterol levels
  • Rupture of the round or oval windows
  • Cervical spine disorders (e.g., whiplash)
  • Elevated aggregation of thrombosis (blood clotting)
  • Blockage (thrombosis) of the inner ear vessel
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Prior acute otitis media (middle ear infection)

The symptoms of acute hearing loss

Characteristics of an acute hearing loss are a “blocked” or deaf feeling in the ear as well as sensitivity to noise. These symptoms usually occur within 24 hours of hearing loss. Tinnitus can signal or also accompany hearing loss. Ear pain does not occur with hearing loss. If this is the case, there is usually an ear infection present.

The possible symptoms:

  • Reduced hearing or complete deafness
  • Occurrence of acute hearing loss usually only in one ear
  • Sudden occurrence of acute hearing loss within 24 hours
  • Acute hearing loss symptoms do not cause ear pain
  • Tinnitus or other ear sounds
  • Pressure sensation in the ear
  • Dizziness in severe cases

Is acute hearing loss the same as tinnitus?

No Acute hearing loss and tinnitus have numerous parallel symptoms, but are not the same. Acute hearing loss itself is a disease, whereas tinnitus is a symptom. Tinnitus can be present without a hearing loss or can be an indicator of acute hearing loss or occur in combination with acute hearing loss. It’s also possible that tinnitus will remain after the acute hearing loss has resolved. In this case, speak with a specialist about tinnitus. Tinnitus is not always directly caused by an acute hearing loss.

Diagnosis - to diagnose an acute loss of hearing

In order to diagnose an acute hearing loss, the ENT physician will determine which causes and symptoms are applicable. A sudden loss of hearing can have banal causes, but under certain circumstances could be a serious illness. Perhaps a harmless plug of ear wax blocked the ear canal; perhaps there is an inner ear infection. Therefore, different examinations are needed: An examination of the eardrum and a hearing test provide information on if there is actual hearing loss or if another illness is involved. Certain frequency tests measure the degree of hearing loss as well as sound vibrations between the brain stem and the cortex in order to clarify whether or not the cochlea is damaged. If there is no evidence leading to a primary illness, then the doctor will diagnose acute hearing loss.

Understanding acute hearing loss

Sometimes rest helps. Trusting the body has helped accelerate some self-healing processes and, according to experts, the rate of spontaneous healing is high during the initial weeks after an acute hearing loss.

There are no medications to heal an acute hearing loss because the cause is unknown.

Since the initial symptoms usually occur within 24 hours, it is recommended to see a doctor quickly upon onset of initial signs. The sooner treatment for acute hearing loss begins, the better the outlook is for recovery.

The following treatment options have been developed based on currently available knowledge:

  • Rest and relaxation
  • Blood circulation medication - blood circulation to the hair cells in the ear is promoted
  • Oxygen chamber - extra oxygen supplies the hair cells and should promote healing
  • Hearing aid for a permanent  hearing loss

If hearing does not return after an acute hearing loss, hearing aids can help. A noise generator within a hearing aid can sometimes help to  reduce the symptoms  of tinnitus, if an acute hearing loss occurs in combination with tinnitus.