Sudden Hearing Loss—What Happens Next?
by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man explained:
I am a 37 year old male who has experienced sudden hearing loss in my right ear. Unfortunately, the problem was not treated right away. Prednisone therapy, which didn’t help, was initiated 13 days after the loss. In hearing tests I could not understand any speech, though I hear tones and some low register sounds. I’m curious to know the possibility, if any, of the hearing returning. My MRI came out negative and I experienced very little, if any, vertigo. It has now been four weeks since the loss. If my hearing does not recover, does the ringing, at least, eventually die down? Do hearing aids assist in reducing the ringing?
Sudden hearing loss typically strikes without warning. The standard treatment is Prednisone. Beginning it as soon as possible after the sudden hearing loss gives the best chances of recovery. Just remember that sometimes Prednisone works and sometimes it doesn’t. Also, sometimes hearing comes back on its own without, or in spite of, any treatment.
In your case, it seems the Prednisone didn’t work. Even though you began it after 13 days, that is not necessarily too late—but the sooner you begin, typically the better results you have.
Unfortunately, it seems that neither the Prednisone, nor time, has restored your hearing. Typically, the worse the sudden loss, the less chance there is of full, or even any, recovery.
The way it usually works is that the hearing you have at the end of 30 days or so is what you will be left with—unless your hearing has been returning a bit at a time all along, in which case it could continue to improve after the 30 days. Since you haven’t had any significant hearing returning during this time, I think the chances that more will return are slim.
You ask, “If my hearing does not recover, does the ringing, at least, eventually die down?”
It may, or may not. In any case, you can learn to habituate to your tinnitus so it no longer bothers you—no matter how loud or soft it is. The thing to do is not dwell on, or focus on, your tinnitus. Totally ignore it, and act like it isn’t there. When you do this, you will notice that your tinnitus tends to fade into the background and not be so intrusive. Not easy to do, I know, but it does work for many people. I’ve had tinnitus for 40 plus years now, and although my ears are ringing away as I write this, I do not let my tinnitus bother me. It is just “there”. (Of course, if I had by “druthers”, I’d rather it wasn’t there at all!)
Conversely, if you dwell on your tinnitus, it will get even worse. That is why it is so important, right from the start, to learn to focus on other things and thus ignore your tinnitus.
Since people typically perceive their tinnitus as louder when there is no sound around, enriching your sound environment helps mask your tinnitus. That is why wearing hearing aids help a lot of people cope with their tinnitus. Hearing aids bring in lots of real sounds for your brain to process so it doesn’t concentrate on your tinnitus as much. Thus, your tinnitus seems to fade into the background to some degree. However, when you take your hearing aids off at night, the lack of real sounds allows your tinnitus to come back until the next morning when you put your aids in again.
One trick to help you manage your tinnitus during the night is to set your clock radio to stay on for an hour or so, so your brain has real sounds to listen to while you fall asleep. Other people find that having a fan running in their bedroom does the same thing. Still others listen to CDs of environmental sounds—rain, waves on the seashore, birds, etc. and have good results with that. Do what works best for you. Hopefully your tinnitus will only be a minor annoyance in your life, not a major problem.
If this doesn’t work, my book, “When Your Ears Ring—Cope with Your Tinnitus—Here’s How” teaches you a number of things you can do to help yourself successfully live with your tinnitus.