by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady explained,
I had a cold on Feb 17 and on Feb 22 I suddenly went deaf in my left ear. I went to my primary care doctor immediately and he prescribed Amoxicillin and Flonase. I was not told this hearing loss could be so serious. I saw an ENT on March 23 and was diagnosed with severe sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) in my left ear. I am on a high dose of Prednisone for the next 2 weeks and hoping for the best.
When a patient comes in with a cold and complains of hearing loss, I wish doctors wouldn’t be so quick to assume that the person has middle ear congestion that is causing the hearing loss, then write out a prescription for antibiotics (Amoxicillin) and decongestants (Flonase) and go on their merry way to their next patient. This is not doctoring. This is just being a “drug pusher” running on autopilot.
To be sure, many people with colds do come in with middle ear congestion that causes some degree of temporary conductive hearing loss. However, numbers of people come in with a much more serious problem, like in your case. The cold virus may or may not have invaded your middle ear, but it obviously did invade your inner ear and has now caused you permanent sensorineural hearing loss.
The former case is a temporary condition and typically doesn’t even need a doctor’s attention. All it requires is time. In a week to several weeks, the cold will go away, the congestion will drain out through the Eustachian tube and hearing will return.
The latter, which you had, is a medical emergency and needed immediate attention if you were to have a hope of getting any hearing back. Unfortunately, your doctor squandered your precious “golden hours” away with useless treatments, when effective help could have made a difference.
I emphasize that the operative words are “could have”, not “would have”. There is no guarantee that doing the “right” treatment would have given you your hearing back. About half the time it does. However, the rest of the time, nothing seems to work. But at least you then could take solace in knowing your doctor did all the right things in a timely manner.
You don’t say what tests your doctor did, but whether you had middle ear congestion or not, your doctor still could have conducted a simple, 10 second test to quickly determine whether you had the common middle ear problem or the serious inner ear emergency (or perhaps both).
Let me emphasize this again—this is a free, 10-second test. Any doctor worth his salt should know and use this simple test to rule out a hearing loss medical emergency of this type. Because your doctor failed to do his job properly, now you likely will have to live the rest of your life with a severe hearing loss in your left ear.
What your doctor should have done is given you the “Hum Test”. This hum test was designed by an otologist to instantly help doctors determine what the underlying problem is. (Incidentally, you can do this yourself at any time in order to know whether you have a clogged ear or whether you have an ear emergency on your hands.)
This test assumes that only one ear feels “blocked” which was your complaint. (If both ears are equally blocked, then this test won’t work.)
Here’s all you need to do. Hum out loud. If you hear your voice louder in the blocked ear, the problem is congestion (fluid in your middle ear) and is probably temporary until your cold goes away and your ear clears.
However, if you hear your voice louder in your good ear, this probably indicates a viral attack causing permanent hearing loss if left untreated. If this is your case, seek treatment immediately. This is a true medical emergency and needs to be treated now if you want a chance of getting your hearing back. Your chances of getting your hearing back with immediate treatment are greater than 50%.
You can learn more about this “Hum Test” in my article Sudden Hearing Loss is a Medical Emergency.