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Have Researchers Found a Way to Bring Your Hearing Loss Out of Hiding?

Have you ever been out with family or friends someplace where a lot of people were talking around you? Maybe at a restaurant, ball game, or your kids school events? Were you able to clearly hear what your small group was talking about or did you have trouble because their words were overshadowed by the chatter from others nearby?
The definition for “hidden” hearing loss is hearing loss that isn’t able to be detected by standard hearing tests. Many describe it as the inability to hear in a noisy environment. This type of hearing loss isn’t detectable through normal auditory testing. For those who have hidden hearing loss, their test results appear just like those with normal hearing.
Long-term or sudden extreme exposure to loud noises has the ability to cause damage to the delicate hair cells located within the inner ear. In healthy ears, we’re able to pick up sound waves which are then transmitted to the inner ear where vibrations occur. These vibrations act within the fluid-filled cochlea, a small cavity shaped much like a snail. The cochlea is divided into two sections that are separated by the basilar membrane. This membrane serves as the floor that the main hearing structure sits on.
When the vibration from sound waves develop, this causes the fluid that’s inside the cochlea to send ripples along the basilar membrane. The hair cells are able to collect this sound wave and transmit it into an electric signal. That signal is carried to the brain by the auditory nerve which allows us to “hear” the noise. Most learn in childhood to interpret this as a sound that we recognize based on repetition.
For someone with hidden hearing loss, these nerve cells in the ear, as well as the connection to the hair cells, have been damaged. This can make it harder to hear definite sounds in a noisy environment. Areas, where people congregate such as churches, boardrooms, or event centers, can wreak havoc on someone’s ability to follow a conversation.
It’s usually easier to hear quiet sounds when they aren’t being trampled by background noise. The risk of hidden hearing loss is higher in people who regularly use earbuds or headphones and love loud music, as well as people who work in loud environments.
According to Daniel B. Polley, PhD, Director of the Lauer Tinnitus Research Center at Mass. Eye and Ear, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology Head-Neck Surgery at Harvard Medical School and senior study author, “Between the increased use of personal listening devices or the simple fact that the world is a much noisier place than it used to be, patients are reporting as early as middle age that they are struggling to follow conversations in the workplace and in social settings, where other people are also speaking in the background. Current clinical testing can’t pick up what’s going wrong with this very common problem.”
Thanks to a study performed by Polley and his colleagues there may be a way to determine who is dealing with hidden hearing loss. Leaning towards the possibility that this condition stems from “abnormal connectivity and communication of nerve cells in the brain and ear”, the group reviewed over 100,000 patient records from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear. They narrowed it down to 23 test subjects ranging in age from young adult to middle-aged who presented with clinically normal hearing.
The first test that was administered to develop these biomarkers was designed to detect how effectively the beginning stages of sound processing functioned within the brain. By measuring the electrical EEG signals that occur at the surface of the ear, they were able to determine how well the subject detected slight yet rapid variations in the sound waves.
The second test utilized specialty glasses that were designed to measure the changes in a subject’s pupil diameter while they concentrated on a single speaker yet were exposed to other conversations in the background. This test was inspired by research done previously that successfully demonstrated how changes in pupil size could indicate how much cognitive effort one was using on a given task.
True to their expectations, there was a wide variation in the participants’ abilities to track a conversation even though their previous tests had deemed their hearing in the normal range. Based on this form of testing researchers were able to combine the changes in a person’s pupil diameter with measurements from their ear canal EEG.
They were then able to recognize which participants would do well and which ones would struggle to track speech in a noisy environment. These results are encouraging, though more research needs to be done in this area.
“Our study was driven by a desire to develop new types of tests. Our work shows that measuring cognitive effort in addition to the initial stages of neural processing in the brain may explain how patients are able to separate one speaker from a crowd,” shared lead study author Aravindakshan Parthasarathy, PhD, an investigator in the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at Mass. Eye and Ear.
“Speech is one of the most complex sounds that we need to make sense of,” Dr. Polley said. “If our ability to converse in social settings is part of our hearing health, then the tests that are used have to go beyond the very first stages of hearing and more directly measure auditory processing in the brain.”
If you or a loved one are having trouble hearing where background noise is present, you may have hidden hearing loss. Be sure to mention this when you schedule an appointment with your hearing health professional.

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Coping With Tinnitus In The Workplace

For millions of people around the world, work is a place of accomplishment, social interaction, and even self-identity. Our jobs contribute to who we are as people and affect our day to day lives, hopefully for the better. But for 32% of Americans struggling with varying degrees of tinnitus, their time in the workplace can be negatively affected by this common condition. According to a 2018 Tinnitus Hub survey, tinnitus is affecting more employees and their jobs than ever, drawing attention to an often overlooked problem and the massive economic impact tinnitus can have on your paycheck and health.

38% Of Respondents Are Struggling

Analyzing the data received from 1,800 respondents, the Tinnitus Hub survey had found that 38% of those who answered reported tinnitus has negatively affected their work prospects. Over 17% had reported that their tinnitus has stopped them from pursuing career progression, while 11% reported that they are struggling and thinking about giving up employment altogether. Most alarming, over 9% had said they have stopped working due to their tinnitus. Unfortunately, these numbers highlight the physical and mental barriers that many face in the workplace, making it harder to be productive or pursue new opportunities. Regrettably, these numbers are not surprising. Research has linked tinnitus to depression, anxiety, and mental health complications, with over 33% reporting severe depression associated with their tinnitus in some studies.

How Tinnitus Can Affect You At Work

There are multiple complications stemming from tinnitus that many of us face, including fatigue, depression, and anxiety. However, according to the Tinnitus Hub survey, respondents reported that difficulties with concentration were the biggest problems affecting them in the workplace. Survey participants reported that tinnitus negatively impacted their concentration mildly (41%), moderately (33%), and even severely (20%), with only a small minority reporting no concentration issues. Though tinnitus can cause fatigue, this trouble in concentration differs from listening fatigue that those with hearing loss experience. The constant ringing from tinnitus requires the brain to force the bothersome buzzing into the background, allowing other sounds and actions to be focused on instead. When one has to consistently block out sounds to concentrate on simple tasks, it can be difficult to focus on duties or be hopeful about future job prospects.

Work Environments May Contribute To The Problem

For some, their work environment may actually contribute to their tinnitus symptoms. Certain professions expose workers to dangerous volumes that may exacerbate or even cause tinnitus. Construction, manufacturing, and military service can expose workers to volumes exceeding 85 decibels, which can be harmful to your hearing health, but even environments with lower volumes can be detrimental. Those suffering from tinnitus often struggle with hyperacusis, a debilitating condition that makes patients hypersensitive to even typical levels of sound, like an office environment or phone calls. This can cause ear pain or spikes in tinnitus, making it difficult to perform or concentrate in common work environments.
If you are struggling with tinnitus in the workplace, seek out medical advice from a hearing health professional about treatment options and tips on how to cope. Sometimes, your tinnitus symptoms can be eased by changing medications or with assistive listening devices. Don’t lose hope when it comes to achieving your professional goals.

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Can Vitamins Protect Your Hearing?

Vitamins are essential for optimal health. Vitamins can help your vision, promote the growth of cells and tissues throughout the body, protect you from infections, and they help to regulate your immune system. What about your hearing health? Yes, vitamins can benefit your ears too.

Vitamins To Help with Hearing

Research is still in progress as to how effective vitamins are for your hearing health. However, there is present information available to people with hearing loss and those who wish to avoid it for adjusting their diets for the sake of their ears. Here are vitamins that can help your hearing:

  • Carotenoids. This group has functions that are important for human health, antioxidant defense, and cell-to-cell communication. Vitamin A is in this group.
  • Fish oil. There is evidence that fish oil slows down the development of age-related hearing loss.
  • Folate. Also known as B-9, folate is found naturally in many foods and is essential for cell division.
  • Vitamin B-12. This water-soluble vitamin is essential for neurological health. A deficiency can increase your chances of developing tinnitus.
  • Vitamin E. This vitamin helps circulation, including circulation in the inner ear. The hair cells within the inner ear are dependent on flow for good hearing health.
  • Vitamin D. A vitamin that is crucial for bone health, including those small bones in the middle ear.

Minerals In Support Of Hearing

Minerals are necessary for your health and body function. These inorganic substances located in soils and rocks are vital for the body to carry out tasks and processes. Minerals are attained by eating plants that take up the minerals from the earth or by consuming meat from animals that eat plants. There are many critical minerals, and here are some ones that boost healthy hearing:

  • Potassium. This commonplace mineral adjusts fluid in the body and body tissue. Potassium is critical for hearing health due to the fluid in the inner ear. This fluid helps to translate noises into electrical impulses the brain reads as sound. Potatoes, spinach, lima beans, tomatoes, bananas, melons, and milk all contain potassium.
  • Folic acid. Folic acid is essential for new cell growth and slowing down the loss of hearing. Organ meats, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus contain generous amounts of folic acid.
  • Magnesium. Magnesium fights the effects of free radicals released during loud noises. It provides a protective barrier for the hair cells in the inner ear. Foods containing magnesium include bananas, artichokes, potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes.
  • Zinc. Zinc is effective at keeping germs that cause colds and ear infections at bay. There is research that suggests that zinc is efficient at treating tinnitus. Pork, beef, dark-meat chicken, peanuts, beans, and dark chocolate have ample amounts of zinc.

A Balanced Diet

A balanced remains the best way to get the nutrients your body needs for optimal health. For your hearing health, try a diet containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats. For good hearing health, it is also essential to have a hearing evaluation with a hearing healthcare professional who can diagnose and treat any hearing loss you may be experiencing.

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Disclosing Your Hearing Loss To Your Employer

Hearing loss is a concern in the workplace. Estimates suggest that 60% of workers in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss, and there is a tremendous need for education and services to address this growing problem. If you have a hearing loss, the first step you can take is to inform your employer about your hearing loss.

When to Discuss Your Hearing Loss

All employers in the U.S. must provide accommodations for workers with hearing loss per the law. Even so, hearing loss remains a barrier for applicants and workers who have difficulty with communication. A recent survey is considering when is the best time for an employee to discuss their hearing loss with their employer. The responses vary:

  • 11% say during the job application process
  • 33% think disclosure during the job interview is best
  • 14% of the respondents feel like it is appropriate upon receipt of the job offer
  • Only 3% believe the first day of the job is appropriate
  • In the first few months of the job say 12%
  • 5% think you should never reveal the hearing loss

22% of the people responding indicate that hearing loss disclosure is appropriate if it interferes with their job duties.

Disclosing Your Hearing Loss

Managing a hearing loss at work is challenging. Research shows that it is best to inform others of your hearing loss. When the subject of hearing loss arises, those with hearing loss tend to respond in different ways. Some people are forthright about their hearing loss and have no problem discussing it in detail. Some employees prefer not to talk about their hearing loss and continuously ask others to repeat themselves or speak up. Finally, some workers are willing to disclose their hearing loss and propose a communication strategy before beginning a conversation.
There are multiple ways for employees with hearing loss to handle it at work. Most researchers suggest a multi-disclosure approach that involves letting others know of your hearing loss. The co-workers will respond by speaking clearly and slowly, and it lets others know that your hearing loss does not define you.

Accommodations

When you disclose your hearing loss, there are accommodations you can request to make your work environment more accommodating.

  • Work area. When discussing hearing loss with your employer, make it clear that you wish to be as productive as possible.
  • Assistive listening devices (ALDs) are an option. Determine which system works best for you, check the price, and have your employer purchase one.
  • Telephones. You are permitted to have a hearing aid compatible (HAC) telephone at your place of work. You are also entitled to a captioned telephone service.
  • Emergency notification systems. Lights on fire alarms, vibrating pagers, and other emergency assistive devices should be put into place when you accept your new job.

If you are having challenges with your hearing, take the necessary steps to have the proper accommodations put into place. Everyone should get a hearing evaluation from a hearing healthcare professional regularly to diagnose a possible hearing loss and receive treatment.

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Fall Risks and Those with Hearing Loss

While we all may occasionally feel a bit wobbly on our feet, for some it happens more often. Of the older generations approximately 65 years and up, the risks are even higher. One out of every four seniors take a fall at least once each year and of these, one in five have serious outcomes such as head injury or broken bones.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), every 11 seconds someone in the 65+ age range is treated in an emergency room due to a fall, and tragically, every 19 minutes one will die as a result of a fall. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention report that the death rate for falls taken by older adults has increased by 31 percent between 2007 and 2016 and that number is still rising.
While unsafe surfaces likely account for some of these spills, difficulties with balance and walking are definite factors as well. Issues that involve symptoms of dizziness or vertigo rank as high as 80 percent in this older age group.
A condition called vestibular or inner ear dysfunction is among the leading causes of these symptoms. This includes the parts of the inner ear as well as the areas of the brain that help to control both balance and eye movements. Of U.S. citizens age 40 and up, approximately 35 percent have had problems with vestibular dysfunctions.
The vestibular area acts as a mechanism to control balance, motion, and spatial orientation. Balance disorders can manifest themselves in different ways such as a floating, unsteady feeling, blurry vision, confusion or disorientation, and faintness. These can all contribute to feelings of fear and panic for someone who has no idea their hearing loss can be related to these symptoms.
Damage to the vestibular system whether from age, disease, or injury is often related to the symptoms of vertigo and dizziness. The audiometric area of the ear can also be attributed to potential fall risk. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, as well as the University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health studies, show that those with a minimum of 25 dB hearing loss are three times as likely to report a fall. These chances rise with each 10 dB increase in hearing loss by a shocking 140 percent.
Over time, technology has evolved from what twenty years ago was a standard series of tests using video nystagmography (VNG) as well as caloric testing. Research now shows that approximately 68 percent of people with vestibular dysfunction was not diagnosed when tested with only VNG.
These days patients shouldn’t expect to receive answers like “everything appears normal” or “this is your new normal”. Testing is now much more accurate and specialists in this field stay up to date on the latest in technology as well as research findings in an effort to better diagnose and help their patients.
Conditions of cognitive decline that include a lack of coordination or trouble with regular activities increase the chances of falls and other injuries associated with imbalance according to research. Research shows that hearing loss can lead to this type of cognitive decline. Hearing loss that’s left undiagnosed can have painful consequences.
“Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” says Dr. Frank Lin, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”
With the latest technologies, doctors are now able to monitor a patient’s condition virtually which can really improve the benefits to those with hearing loss. By virtually connecting with patients between visits via virtual reality (VR) programs, they can provide those with balance disorders, dizziness, or vertigo with a safer and less stressful treatment.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), “Hearing and balance disorders cross all ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Approximately 37.5 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss and 33.4 million adults report a problem during the past 12 months with dizziness or balance, such as vertigo, unsteadiness, or blurred vision after moving the head.”
If you are living with hearing loss, there are several steps you can take to help minimize the risk of falling. The first and most important is to visit a trusted hearing health professional. They will perform an examination and possibly tests to determine the best way to help minimize the hearing loss. They can help you make the best choice for hearing devices and refer you to other specialists for services such as therapy to help with balance and coordination.
Other simple to perform tips are:

  • Get physical. Daily physical activity can help keep the body limber and prevent falls. Try some gentle movements such as activities that help improve balance, coordination, flexibility, and strength
  • Remove hazards around the home such as papers, boxes, electrical cords, or other cluttered areas
  • Fix loose boards or carpeting and rugs so they are not hazardous
  • Put things in their places like books, dishes, and small items, but keep them within easy reach so you’re not straining to get to them
  • Keep the home clean of spills such as food, grease, or liquids
  • Utilize nonslip mats in your tub or shower as well as the bathroom floors
  • Remove furniture (coffee or end tables, magazine or plant racks) from high traffic areas
  • Keep areas well light and place lamps in easy to reach areas so you’re not fumbling in the dark
  • Take advantage of assistive devices like grab bars for showers or tubs, handrails for stairways, nonslip treading on wood steps, and a solid seat and handheld shower wand for use while bathing

By visiting your hearing health professional and following these simple steps you have the tools to minimize the risk of falls for you or a loved one.

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What’s the Difference Between Hearing Aids & Hearing Amplifiers?

Have you heard of a hearing amplifier? Sometimes called a hearing enhancer or a personal sound amplifying product (PSAP), a hearing amplifier does just what its name suggests: it amplifies sound. While this may sound similar to what hearing aids do, they are different tools for different purposes.
First, let’s start with what hearing aids are and who might need them. Hearing aids are designed for people with hearing loss. They work by boosting or enhancing certain frequencies of sound in order to help the person better hear that particular frequency. This can, in turn, help the person better understand speech and other sounds.
Hearing aids are typically professionally fitted and finely tuned to each person’s unique needs. This is because each case of hearing loss is unique. Hearing aids are highly personal and can be a great tool for improving a person’s ability to hear sounds and communicate with others. When properly used, hearing aids can improve a person’s quality of life.
Now, let’s turn to hearing amplifiers. Hearing amplifiers are made for people with normal hearing. Unlike hearing aids, which enhance only certain frequencies, hearing amplifiers work by amplifying all sounds.
A hearing amplifier’s abilities can be useful in situations where the sound needs a boost to allow you to hear it better, such as while watching TV, while birdwatching, or while at the theater. Sound amplifiers can also be used in closed environments where the sound level needs a boost, such as at the cinema or in a restaurant. Some sound amplifiers can even be used to keep an “ear” out for babies or small children at home. You may want to use a hearing amplifier if you have normal hearing and would like to enhance the sound by simply making it louder.
Sound amplifiers are not made for people who are hard of hearing. Using a sound amplifier when you suffer from hearing loss will likely do nothing to improve your ability to hear or understand sounds. This is because the amplifier will boost the volume of all sounds, while most people with hearing loss have difficulty hearing specific frequencies. Furthermore, neglecting to properly treat hearing loss can lead to further deterioration of your hearing ability.
It may sometimes be difficult to tell whether you simply need the sound to be louder (as provided by a sound amplifier) or if you are experiencing hearing loss. The following are common signs of hearing loss:

  • Difficulty hearing in crowded or noisy environments
  • Constant need to increase the volume on the TV, radio, or music
  • Difficulty understanding conversations
  • A sensation of muffled hearing
  • Frequently choosing to avoid social events and activities
  • Spending more time trying to read lips

If you have noticed these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, hearing loss may be the cause. In these cases, it is important to receive high-quality care from a hearing professional. They will be able to evaluate your hearing ability and recommend the proper hearing device.
To learn more about the difference between hearing amplifiers and hearing aids, and to set up an appointment with our friendly hearing professional, we encourage you to contact our office today.

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How Hearing Loss in Children Affects School Attendance

Think back to your childhood school days. Did you love going to school, or did you attempt to manufacture excuses that would allow you to stay home from school?
Either way, it is likely that you attended school more days than not. And whether you enjoyed school or not, your early education played a big role in your future educational success and social life, as well as your success in a career.
Recently, researchers in Australia discovered one factor that can cause students to miss more school and thus affect their education: hearing loss. Researchers conducted the study in Northern Territory (NT) of Australia and specifically focused on the Year One school attendance of Aboriginal children.
In the study, researchers compared Year One attendance among Aboriginal children with normal hearing to that of the children with preventable hearing impairment. The study considered both unilateral hearing loss as well as bilateral hearing impairment. More than a third (36.3 percent) of the children surveyed had bilateral hearing loss, while over half (55.1 percent) had either unilateral or bilateral hearing loss.
Researchers found that no matter the type or severity of hearing loss, the children with impaired hearing attended fewer school days than their peers with normal hearing. As noted, this study focused on children with preventable hearing loss. The most common cause of hearing loss among these children is otitis media or an infection of the middle ear.
As part of their conclusions from the study, the researchers suggest “regular surveillance” of the children, both regarding the infection and their hearing ability. They recommend screening for hearing loss, and perhaps infection as well, during early childhood when the children enter preschool and their first year of full-time education. The study particularly recommended these measures for Aboriginal children who live in more remote areas, such as those studied in NT.
While this study was conducted in Australia and focused on the case of Aboriginal children, the findings and conclusions can be applied to children worldwide. Otitis media and other illnesses that result in preventable hearing loss are not isolated to NT. It can also be beneficial for children to be screened for hearing loss in early childhood and in school in order to identify hearing loss at an early stage and provide treatment at the earliest time possible.
By identifying and treating hearing loss, as well as preventing hearing loss when possible, these children will have a greater opportunity for success in school, education, their social lives, and their careers. As the study found that students with normal hearing were less likely to miss school days, they were present for more learning. School sets up a child for success, and even early education is important and formative.
If you believe that your child may be suffering from hearing loss, we encourage you to contact our hearing practice today. We are here to care for you and your family.

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Sonus Hearing Care Professionals is Proud to Support the Hearing Health Foundation

As the holiday season ends, we’re reminded of all the things we’re thankful for. Not only are we grateful to support our patients with their hearing concerns, but we appreciate the opportunity to help others in need. It’s not just the immediate people around us that can benefit from generosity; you can make a difference in the world no matter where you are.
At Sonus Hearing Care Professionals, we are a proud supporter of a variety of charities and noteworthy causes. This winter, we’ve extended our reach to support the Hearing Health Foundation. We’re committed to the welfare of others and are grateful that we can encourage this fantastic organization and the important work they’re doing.
Our staff thanks you for the gift you give us daily – being able to help you with your hearing needs. It’s what makes our job truly special.
Season’s greetings!

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Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids; What Does This Mean for Audiology?

As technology and medical research continue to advance, more facets of your healthcare are becoming increasingly over the counter, whether that be medication, devices, or just medical advice. Treatment for hearing loss is no exception, with over the counter hearing aids becoming an imminent reality, invoking worry in many audiologists across the country. As hearing aids become more accessible over the counter, audiologists fear the impact on their profession and practice. This disruptive innovation is poised to achieve a new market foothold, becoming a more attractive option to new consumers who are looking for the most convenient and simple transition into hearing aids, taking business from traditional hearing aid manufacturers and audiologists who often bundle devices into their services. Though they seem convenient, the introduction of OTC hearing aids shows that despite intentions to increase accessibility and reduce costs, patients are not receiving the treatment they desperately need in exchange for ease.

Don’t Bypass Your Doctors Appointment Just Yet

According to the OTC Hearing Aid Act, the intention was to increase accessibility and affordability of devices, though OTC hearing aids have done little to achieve those goals. In fact, they hinder the ability of patients to get the information and proper assessments that they should have before finding the most effective hearing aid. OTC Hearing Aids utilize a business model designed to bypass diagnostic evaluations, hearing needs assessments, and audiologists all together in favor of self-identifying a device. Not only does this keep patients out of their doctor’s office, but also from receiving the medical advice they may need, ignoring the advocation by organizations such as the American Academy of Audiology for required medical evaluations for OTC hearing aids. Moreover, “receiving an OTC device is expected to be based on self-perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, not measured hearing capability that directly aligns with the definition provided by ASHA.”
 
As hearing loss can differ greatly from patient to patient, it’s critical that patients do not bypass professional medical advice. Herein lies the fear of audiologists, as numerous unofficial polls conducted via social media and trade publications have documented the anxiety had by medical professionals as OTC devices are positioned to impact not only their practice but their profession as a whole.

Changing Public Perception

To combat this imminent and disruptive technology, Audiologists must aim to change public perception about the importance of their profession and medical advice regarding hearing loss. ”The efforts of the profession should be focused not on a device, but rather on educating the public such that they recognize audiologists’ value and demand access to it.” says Dr. Sarah Sydlowski, Audiology Director of the Otolaryngology department at Cleveland Clinic, ”Take every opportunity to reinforce the value audiologists provide. Emphasize the importance of a hearing evaluation before deciding to use any hearing device. Help the public understand that an inappropriate hearing device can be as detrimental as no hearing device.” With proper advocation, audiologists can continue to give the critical information required for patients with hearing loss, ensuring that patients do not give up their doctors for convenience.

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New Guideline Updates On What You Need To Know About Sudden Hearing Loss

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.”