Sudden Hearing Loss and Tinnitus are Medical Emergencies

Several years ago I was awakened by a loud high-pitched tone (tinnitus) in my right ear. It seemed I was hearing nothing in the right ear but the tone. Strangely, I could feel the airflow from a fan on my right but could not hear it. I turned my left ear to the fan and heard it clearly. That got my attention. Having worked with an otologist (ear specialist/surgeon) for many years, I was aware of some of the possible causes; ear infection, certain medications, sudden very loud impact sounds (fireworks, gunshots) at close range, and tumor, to name a few. In some cases, depending on the cause, the hearing loss and tinnitus resolve on their own. But a sudden hearing loss and sudden constant tinnitus are not to be taken lightly and thankfully I had access to a medical specialist within the first 24 hours of onset.

Immediate medical attention is recommended for the best possible outcome. Waiting and hoping that the problem “fixes itself” is not prudent. A consult with a qualified medical professional; someone who specializes in ears and hearing is the best choice if possible in a timely manner. If not, a visit to an emergency room is in order, especially if more symptoms (vertigo, memory impairment, and headache) arise. The sooner you can be evaluated, the better the prognosis.

In my case, a hearing test confirmed some high frequency hearing loss in the right ear compared to the left. An MRI scan showed nothing out of the ordinary. Steroid treatment was considered but my hearing was noticeably improving on its own and the tinnitus was waning. By the next day, another hearing test confirmed that my right ear had recovered and the tinnitus was gone. I consider myself fortunate and do not regret the expense of the evaluation. Sudden hearing loss should be considered a major medical event. It may be the first symptom of a very serious, yet often treatable condition.

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