Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, SSNHL, was identified more than a century ago, but remains a clinical enigma. The cause can be found in only 10-15 percent of patients, and often practitioners attribute it to Eustachian tube dysfunction, causing a delay in diagnosis and proper treatment in some cases. SSNHL should be examined on an emergency basis, and a team approach consisting of an audiologist and an otolaryngologist is recommended.
SSNHL is defined as a loss greater than 30 dB in three contiguous frequencies, occurring over a period of less than three days. It may be noticed upon awakening in the morning or develop rapidly over hours or days.
70 percent of SSNHL patients also suffer from tinnitus. Vertigo is present in 50 percent of the SSNHL cases.
The incidence increases with age: 4.7 in 100,000 people 20-30 years old, and 15.8 per 100,000 in those 50-60 years of age.
Spontaneous recovery occurs in 30-70 percent of the cases, usually within the first two-four weeks. The chances of full hearing recovery are smaller for patients with severe loss of hearing and when the SSNHL is accompanied by vertigo. The younger the patient, the likelier a full recovery.
Source: Hearing Review, December 2003, Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss special issue.
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