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'Sudden Hearing Loss Can Happen At Any Age'

By RONJITA KULKARNI
June 20, 2024 16:03 IST
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'The earlier you get your treatment done, the better the chance of recovery.'

IMAGE: Alka Yagnik posted this week: 'A few weeks ago, as I walked out of a flight, I suddenly felt I was not able to hear anything,' and then shared what she was suffering from. Photograph: Rediff.com Archives

Singing legend Alka Yagnik shared heart-breaking news this week when she announced that she suffered from a rare sensory neural nerve hearing loss due to a viral attack.

Just what does that mean and what causes it?

More importantly, how can we avoid it?

Dr Suresh Singh Naruka, Senior Consultant, ENT, at Apollo Hospital, Delhi, has been treating patients for 15 years and does a quick FAQ with Ronjita Kulkarni/Rediff.com, advising, "Never use your amplification hearing devices like headphones and Bluetooth for more than half an hour in one go and try to moderate the intensity. It should not be 90 or 100 decibels. If you want to enjoy your music, 45-50 decibels is fine."

 

What does Sensory Neural Nerve Hearing Loss mean?

The ear serves two functions.

One is to make ourselves hear the world, and the second is to maintain balance.

So we stand, sit and we walk because of our eyes, our ears and our joints.

Like other organs can lose their functions, the ear can also lose their functions.

Sudden hearing loss means the functional capacity of ear goes off all of sudden.

The ear has three components: The outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear.

The outer and middle ear serve transfer the sound from the environment to the inner ear.

The inner ear has some hair like cells, which transfer the sound by making them into signals to the brain.

This is how we hear.

Now if these hair cells lose their function, we cannot hear. This is what we understand as hearing loss.

Hearing loss is bilateral or unilateral, which means either both ears or it can affect only one ear.

Sometimes, the ear can lose function but not completely. So the hearing loss is not 100 percent. One can have a partial sudden hearing loss too.

Sensory Neural Hearing Loss means the inner ear is not functioning.

What are the reasons for this?

There are two types.

One is idiopathic, which means we don't know the reason. Majority cases are in this category.

In the second, it's a known cause.

These known causes can be sound trauma, viral infection, bacterial infection like meningitis and trauma.

Sometimes we can have sudden hearing loss because of tumors.

In her post, Alka Yagnik cautioned against loud music and headphones. Is that also a cause?

Yes. In medical science, we understand these situations as noise trauma.

If there is a sudden blast or if you go to a (night) club where there is loud music of 100 decibels and if you expose yourself to that for more than 30 minutes, you may get sudden hearing loss.

Is this age-related?

Sudden hearing loss is not age-related.

Gradual hearing loss is age-related. Nerves start aging like the other parts of the body. Diabetes, chronic diseases, liver disease and blood pressure can make the nerve age faster.

But sudden hearing loss can happen at any age. We have seen kids with sudden hearing loss.

What are the symptoms for Sensory Neural Nerve Hearing Loss?

Sudden hearing loss itself is the symptom.

Sometimes, sudden hearing loss is associated with dizziness or imbalance because the other purpose of the ear -- balance -- may also get compromised.

They may also feel vertigo and vomiting, but not always.

What is the treatment for this?

Again, there are two types.

If the cause is known, the treatment becomes a little easier. You have to remove the cause.

Like if it is a bacterial infection, you remove the bacterial infection and you can get your hearing back.

If it is a tumour, you remove the tumour, and you can get your hearing back.

But the most important factor in idiopathic hearing loss is time. The earlier you get your treatment done, the better the chance of recovery.

Like, if you have any organ failure, if you reach hospital faster, the chances of your survival or your organ survival is better.

The same goes for the ear.

If you have sudden hearing loss, and you reach hospital in one hour, you will get better chances of recovery. If you will reach in one day, you will have more chances of recovery, but not as good as one hour.

So time is very important.

For treatment, we use an audiogram to check the hearing.

We do an MRI to check for tumours.

We sometimes do impedance audiometry to identify hearing problems.

We check your blood sugar and do a thorough check on any other illness you have.

We can start giving steroids through the intra-tympanic route. There is a window in the ear, the round window, through which we can introduce steroid drugs into your inner ear and hyperbaric oxygen. Oxygen can sometimes revive your organs.

What are the precautions against this condition?

Avoid noise pollution.

Whenever you are having fever for a long time, correct your fever because in some cases like viral fever, one can have hearing loss.

Avoid the use of ear buds.

Avoid listening to loud music.

Of course, other things like avoid smoking and alcohol, blood pressure is bad, uncontrolled sugar is bad. We all know that we should take care of these things.

You mentioned ear buds. Can you please elaborate?

Ear buds are not to clean ears. The purpose of ear buds is to apply ointment but mistakenly, we use ear buds for cleaning ears.

We don't know what is inside our ears. We use ear buds blindly.

Suppose if our ears have some structural abnormalities, it can be damaged with ear buds.

A blind procedure by using ear buds for ear cleaning is not advisable and sometimes, can be dangerous.

Sometimes, you can also stimulate a nerve which can stop the heart from functioning. You can have syncope and be unconscious for a few seconds because the nerve which supplies the eardrum is also supplying the heart.

To stimulate your nerve from your ear can stop your heart to function for a few seconds. So if you are on a flight of stairs at that time, you can fall down and have other injuries too.

Would you say this condition is common in your experience?

See, it's not uncommon.

Being an ENT, working in Apollo Hospital, Delhi, we see such patients weekly, especially the youth, who use hearing amplification devices like headphones or Bluetooth too often.

It will be disastrous if we keep up the noise pollution, for our ears, for society... You know, noise is not good for animals too. If it can impact animal behaviour, it is impacting our behaviour too.

If you are habitual of using headphones all the time, the social interaction is becoming less and it's impacting our behaviour.

If you're listening to music or watching movies or videos all the time on your headphones, you are on your own. How will you bond with the others around you?

So for the future, this is not something we recommend.

IMAGE: Dr Suresh Singh Naruka.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Suresh Singh Naruka

What advice would you give our readers?

Get a routine check-up of your ears annually.

Never use your amplification hearing devices like headphones and Bluetooth for more than half an hour in one go and try to moderate the intensity. It should not be 90 or 100 decibels. If you want to enjoy your music, 45-50 decibels is fine.

We should not involve ourselves in activities which include loud sounds for a long time as are troubling your ear as well as your brain.

Like, if we are going to a (night) club, we should not be inside for more than an hour. Try to come out after 30 minutes, so you can relax your ears so that they are ready to bear that noise trauma again.

If you are in a club for a long time, it is not good for your ears.

We should not use ear buds to clean our ears. You can introduce infection. You can even traumatise your eardrum.

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RONJITA KULKARNI / Rediff.com