When Hearing Loss is a Medical Emergency

There are many causes of sensorineural hearing loss including, noise exposure, aging, exposure to ototoxic medication, head trauma and illness to list a few. Typically hearing loss declines gradually over time, however in cases of sporadic hearing loss it is important to seek immediate assessment to ensure the best treatment plan is established.

With the help of Oksana Melnichuk, a Registered Hearing Instrument Practitioner (RHIP) at NexGen Hearing, we have compiled a list of symptoms that could suggest the need for urgent medical intervention.

1. Sudden Hearing Loss

A Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) occurs when there is a significant decline in hearing over a 72 hour window. This condition commonly affects only one ear and may present independent of other symptoms or in combination with a feeling of aural fullness, tinnitus and/or dizziness. A sudden decline in hearing requires immediate medical intervention to ensure treatment can be provided in a timely manner. Treatment should be received within 48 hours of the onset of a SSHL. An untreated SSHL can significantly impact an individual’s communication abilities and quality of life.

2. Fluctuating hearing loss

Fluctuating hearing loss can occur as a result of several different conditions, such as Ménière’s disease (MD), autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED), head trauma, and/or ototoxic medications. It can occur in individuals with normal hearing or individuals who already present with hearing loss. The fluctuates may be noted in one ear or both and may occur on an irregular basis. It is important to contact your physician if you notice hearing fluctuations to establish the cause and treatment plan.

3. Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not a condition itself, but rather a symptom of another condition. Causes of tinnitus can range from prolonged exposure to loud sounds, aging, injuries to the head and neck, certain medications and/or other medical conditions such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease to name a few. Tinnitus is often described as ringing in the ears; however, it can also be described as buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, etc. The sound can be intermittent or continuous and can vary in loudness. While there is no cure for tinnitus, some individuals find the perception of tinnitus can be reduced with the use of external masking devices. Medical treatment should be sought if tinnitus leads to an increase in stress, sleep disturbances, is pulsatile, and/or perceived in one ear only.

4. Ear discharge

The discharge of earwax from the ear canal is a normal occurrence, however if blood or fluid is noted medical intervention should be obtained as it may be indicative of a more serious medical condition, such as infection, trauma to the ear canal, middle ear space and/or skull bone and/or swimmer’s ear. If left untreated discharge from the ear can lead to reduced hearing abilities, discomfort and/or damage to the structures of the middle ear.

The staff at NexGen Hearing are dedicated to working alongside other health care professionals to ensure all patients receive timely access to care, information, and assistive technology.

If you or a loved one is currently or has experienced one or more of the above symptoms, please contact your local NexGen Hearing during business hours and advise you need an urgent diagnostic hearing assessment. If it is outside of normal business hours, please visit the Hospital Emergency Room for urgent assessment.

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