Acute onset of hearing loss


Hearing loss can be seen as coming from the ear canal, the tympanic membrane and middle ear space where the hearing bones are and inner ear problems.  The history often suggests the source, but an exam exam is key to pinpoint more precisely where the problem is.

Ear canal problems are very common:

Impacted cerumen or wax occurs all year round, though it is often aggravated with swimming in the warmer weather.  In addition, swimmers ear or outer ear infections can cause swelling and block the ear canals.

Management – Although there are many over the counter preparations and even devices to clean out wax, they often do not work and aggravate the problem further.  It’s best to see a physician for evaluation and management with removal.  In the case of patients with chronic problems it is often best to see an ENT

physician. In the case of an outer ear infection, cleaning and ear drops are often required and in the case of severe pain and swelling, it may be necessary to place something in the ear canal to draw in the ear drops.

Tympanic membrane or middle ear problems Fluid behind the tympanic membrane is very common often being associated with colds and sinus infections which we talked about last week.  It is also possible to have problems with the hearing bones.

Management – Most middle ear fluid problems will resolve on their own over time.  In the case of an ear infection antibiotics are indicated.  If is not unusual to have persistent fluid for 2 to 4 weeks even after the infection is resolved and patience is required.

Inner ear problems – Sensorineural hearing loss aka nerve loss is common in all age groups.  1 in 6 baby boomers have hearing loss and 1 in 3 adults over the age of 60.  Outer and middle ear problems add to the hearing loss and are the most common cause of people noticing their hearing loss.

Management – For ongoing hearing loss, hearing aids are the best treatment.  We now know that hearing loss affects the brain in many ways, and correcting  hearing loss with the right hearing aids and hearing care provider is vital in keeping the hearing loss from getting worse and causing more brain problems.  Sudden Hearing Loss is an event that acutely leads to nerve loss most commonly in 1 ear.  It requires evaluation with an exam and hearing test probably best done in an ENT office.  The management is steroids and the sooner it is done, the better.

This is a brief synopsis of common causes of hearing loss and their management. Middle ear problems are most common this time of year.   I hope it is helpful, and we are always here to help patients sort out what they need to do to correct the problem.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Dr Bert Brown

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