How is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL) Diagnosed?
When you first realise you have had a sudden loss of hearing, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Treatment within 24-48 hours of onset is thought to be most effective and acting quickly is crucial.
Note: It can be helpful to have a friend or relative accompany you to the appointment to help with communication.
What to Expect When You Seek Medical Attention for Sudden Hearing Loss?
The healthcare professional will ask you about your symptoms and look inside your ears using a small handheld torch with a magnifying lens. You will also be asked about your medical history. Make sure to mention any medical conditions you have and any medications, particularly ototoxic drugs, you are taking.
Questions the Healthcare Professional Might Ask:
- When did this happen?
- What were you doing at the time when this happened?
- Have you had recent exposure to loud noise, e.g. live music?
- Are you experiencing dizziness/vertigo?
- Have you noticed any changes in your hearing since you first realised the loss?
- Do you have ringing or a buzzing sound (tinnitus) in your ears?
- Are you experiencing a sensitivity to sound?
- Are you currently taking any medications?
- Do you have any pain?
- Have you been treated for COVID-19?
The more information you can tell the healthcare professional, the more they can understand the circumstances of your hearing loss and decide on the correct treatment.
They can also do some simple checks of your hearing using sound vibrations produced with a tuning fork. Your doctor uses the results of these tests to check for damage to the parts of the middle ear (eardrum or middle ear bones), or inner ear (cochlea or hearing nerve). If needed, you may be referred to an ENT (a specialist in ears, nose and throat conditions, including hearing loss) or an audiologist (hearing healthcare professional) for more hearing tests. In some cases, depending on the healthcare system, you may be referred to a neurologist to rule out an underlying health issue that could have led to the hearing loss.
What to Expect During a Consultation with a Hearing Healthcare Professional?
The hearing healthcare professional will ask you more questions about your hearing loss. Make sure you reiterate when the hearing loss happened as this information is key to receiving prompt treatment.
They will perform an examination which may include looking in your ears, your nose, and your throat.
In addition to speaking to you about your hearing loss and performing an examination, you should also be asked to take a hearing test, if you have not already had one.
NOTE: If you have suspected SSNHL but are unable to have a hearing test (e.g. if the audiology department is closed), then due to the urgency of receiving prompt treatment for this condition, treatment may be started as a precaution. A hearing test will be carried out as soon as possible.
What to Expect During a Hearing Test?
During a hearing test, an audiologist will test your hearing using headphones, to find out what type and degree of hearing loss you have.
You will be asked to place the headphones over your ears and may be asked to sit in a booth with a window where you can see the audiologist.
The audiologist will present a series of different tones of varied pitch and loudness to the headphones, one at a time.
You will be asked to make a gesture such as raising your hand or pushing a button to indicate you have heard the sound.
An audiogram (a graph of the results of a hearing test) is required to diagnose Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL) and assess the degree of the hearing loss.
Suggested Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Professional
Here are some suggested questions to ask your healthcare provider during an initial consultation and a follow-up appointment regarding sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL).
Infographic is an adapted version of this document from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) website (www.entnet.org). Soucre: Chandrasekhar SS, Tsai Do BS, Schwartz SR, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Sudden Hearing Loss (Update). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019;161 (1_Suppl):[S1-S45].
Many thanks to Roulla Katiri, audiologist at The Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, for proofreading and editing support.
Thank you to Aston Hearing for allowing use of image.