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Sudden Hearing Loss

This is quite a topical post, as it still appears that not all GP’s are seeing patients face to face - even when there is a clinical need. So I would like to tell you about sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), and how it can be mistaken for wax.

SSNHL is relatively common, affecting 1-6 people in every 5,000 every year. All but the newest audiologists have seen several cases, and in my case my husband also has a severe/profound loss caused by measles as a child.

It can be caused by one of the c4,000 viruses that are known to lead to hearing loss, and other diseases or medications. There are different patterns of loss that lead to different symptoms. You may hear sounds as muffled, dull or distorted. You may hear practically nothing. You might suddenly struggle to hear on the phone. It may affect one ear or both. It may occur alongside an illness or you may not notice any illness. It is a rapid loss that quickly gets worse over hours or days.

The key point to remember is that this sudden loss is in some cases reversible. Current medical protocol is a dose of corticosteroids which can be provided at low cost and with few side effects by your GP or A&E doctors. But they must be taken within a couple of days of onset in order to have a chance of restoring your hearing.

Wax buildup or middle ear fluid can also cause deafness. However wax buildup is associated with:

* a prior history of wax buildup

* cracking and popping noises as the wax shifts in the ear

* itching and discomfort or other physical sensations

* worsening after a bath or shower as the wax becomes softer and swells

* affects one ear at a time, not both on the same day

Middle ear fluid often causes noises in the ear too, and is usually seen in patients with a history of the same symptoms, often since childhood.

If you have a sudden hearing problem and no history of these issues, it is important to see a medic ASAP. If you can get a hearing test booked in the same day that is helpful, but an audiologist can only confirm the loss and refer you, not prescribe medication, which can add to the delay.

Do not wait several days for a hearing test, and please do not allow yourself to be told that it is ‘probably wax’ without an examination of your ears.

Contact an audiologist for a second opinion if your GP refuses to see you, and if it is out of hours then A&E is always open.

Hearing and Tinnitus Care is one such service, there are many others who would be happy to advise you. Audiologists would rather have ten calls that turn out to be harmless, and save one person’s hearing, than have people not want to bother us.

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