Sudden sensorineural hearing loss: Alka Yagnik brings rare condition to light

Take a close look at Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, a rare condition which renowned playback singer Alka Yagnik has been diagnosed with
Representative image
Representative image

BENGALURU: Renowned playback singer Alka Yagnik recently disclosed that she has been diagnosed with sudden sensorineural hearing loss at the age of 58. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL) is described as a hearing loss occurring usually in one ear of sudden origin. It involves a hearing loss of at least 30 dB in three consecutive frequencies.

SSNHL leads to a sudden sense of blockade in the affected ear and is often accompanied by sensation of ringing sounds in the ear and sometimes associated with giddiness. Any sudden sense of heaviness especially in one ear needs immediate attention.

The hearing loss of the popular singer brings this uncommon problem to light. It is difficult to predict the incidence as reports vary from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 cases. Often, the occurrence is sudden and sometimes, the recovery is also spontaneous in about 20 to 30 per cent of people, before they decide to seek medical attention. However, about 70 to 80 per cent, need medical attention at the earliest to get back their lost hearing.

What causes SSNHL?

SSNHL occurs due to various causes. Sometimes, no ascertainable cause is detected, and then it is called idiopathic. One of the theories is a viral infection in the cochlea, the hearing apparatus. Old viral infections like chicken pox can get reactivated, causing SSNHL. Other viruses like common cold viruses and mumps viruses also spread to the ear through the blood and cause this problem.

The other common cause for SSNHL is the sudden occlusion of the blood circulation of the hearing apparatus. The tiny labyrinthine artery supplies blood to the cochlea (hearing organ) and the vestibule (balance organ) and sudden blockage, blood clot or narrowing in the artery can cause hearing loss in one ear due to obstruction of blood circulation.

It is often missed by patients, as the other good ear continues to provide hearing support and people dismiss it as water blockage or wax in the ear. This vascular compromise to the inner ear often reflects as a combined symptom complex of sudden hearing loss associated with giddiness, which draws the person’s attention to the problem more quickly.

The third possible origin for SSNHL is due to autoimmune activity, where the body’s immune system acts against its own cells and causes cell damage. Other causes are respiratory infections or tumours in the hearing nerve, usage of certain medications and history of trauma. Sometimes, none of these causes come into play and it can happen to anyone without any warning. This is why this condition needs awareness.

What should an affected person do?

Whenever one feels a sudden sensation of blockage in the ears, it is important to get an urgent consultation with an ENT surgeon latest within 24 hours. Sudden hearing loss is often accompanied by ringing sounds in the ears and symptoms like giddiness. These additional symptoms are warning signals that the ears need urgent attention.

What are the treatment options available?

After an examination, the doctor will detect the probable cause for the hearing loss. Tuning fork tests, pure tone audiograms, a battery of blood tests and an MRI scan will be done to look for possible causes.

Immediate resuscitation measures need to be taken in the form of steroid injections, antiviral medications, vasodilators to improve the blood circulation of the hearing apparatus and other supportive measures to get back the hearing of the affected person.

The purpose of the treatment is to restore the blood supply of the affected ear to recover the lost hearing. Early presentation within 24 hours, has much better chances of hearing improvement. Delay can result in partial or total failure of hearing recovery.

In scenarios, where there is total hearing loss in one ear, it can lead to significant handicap. The sense of direction and origin of the sound becomes affected leading to difficulty in comprehension of daily conversation, especially in a meeting where people are sitting and discussing issues on both sides of the table.

Rehabilitation of hearing can be attempted using hearing amplification devices and cochlear implants in certain cases.

Can sudden sensorineural hearing loss be prevented? The unfortunate answer is ‘No’.

Be careful and preserve your hearing as it helps you to remain in tune with the world!

(The writer is lead consultant - Ear, Nose & Throat, Manipal Hospital Whitefield)

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express