Recently, I woke up in the morning with reduced hearing in one ear. I am a retired ENT physician, and I immediately suspected the diagnosis: sudden idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss, a very common disease.

If people live to 80 years of age, they have an almost 1% chance of suffering from it. But almost nobody knows about it, including some doctors. That is why I am writing about it.

It is defined as a sudden loss of hearing in one ear for which no reasonable diagnosis can be made, like wax in the ear canal or fluid in the middle ear. It occurs instantaneously (poof, hearing gone) or over the course of a few days.

It can be treated with steroids. Steroids are most effective when started immediately. The longer the delay, the worse the prognosis.

If people ever lose hearing suddenly for no apparent reason, they should consider themselves to be undergoing an emergency and seek help immediately. Their PCP or the doctor on call should give them oral prednisone for a week if he or she cannot see them immediately; 60 mg per day if there are no contraindications. People must not delay even one day.

I was lucky. I knew what needed to be done. My former partner saw me immediately to rule out other problems, and prescribed prednisone on the spot. I improved quickly.

Now my hearing seems normal. I am very grateful to have recovered this valuable sense.

Ben Lounsbury, MD, Auburn


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