Woke up Deaf in Right Ear (SSHL)

My story isn’t really all the different from the others who have experienced Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL). My issue started on the morning of April 30th, 2021 when I awoke to being around 80% deaf in my right ear. I went to bed without any cold, flu, or allergy symptoms the night before. Just woke up that morning and, wham… massive hearing issue.

As the morning went on, I still didn’t exhibit any typical cold or allergy symptoms. In fact, I felt normal aside from the hearing loss. The right ear felt like I had a bed pillow covering it and everything was very muted. No pressure and no pain. At this point the anxiety started to pick up a bit because I was beginning to realize this wasn’t just a plugged ear anymore.

First Day – Self-Diagnosis

I decided to make an appointment with my general doctor. He wasn’t available so I had to see the PA. She looked in my ears, up my nose, and in my throat and said all looked fine. Suspecting Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) caused by allergies, she sent me home with instructions to take Mucinex and Allergy medicine. She wasn’t even the least bit concerned when I told her I was pretty much deaf in my right ear. You’d think if after seeing there was nothing wrong with my ear and me saying I’m deaf, that she would send me to an ENT right away.

People with SSHL often discover the hearing loss upon waking up in the morning.

National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

As the day went on, the hearing seemed to get worse, but that was just my anxiety kicking in. I also started to get a little tinnitus and weird sound distortions at higher frequencies. Later that evening I got on the internet and started self-diagnosing myself, which is usually the worst course of action. It’s not that hard to diagnose “death” from any common symptom.

It didn’t take long to find something called called Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, or sudden deafness. My wife said I was crazy and have always picked the worst case scenario when it comes to my illnesses. However, as I continued researching, I thought my issues doesn’t sound anything like ETD and succumbed to the self-diagnoses. I decided it was time to go to the ER because it said this was a medical emergency that required immediate treatment.

Emergency Room

By about 8:45 pm that Friday night, I was at the Emergency Room. I told them I had suddenly gone mostly deaf in my right ear upon waking this morning. They walked me to into the back treatment area and took my vitals. Like the PA, the on-call doctor looked at my ears and said everything looked fine. By this time, the tinnitus was worse. It was screeching. The ER doctor didn’t seem the least bit alarmed, said there was nothing they could do, and sent me home with a referral for an ENT on Monday morning.

Second and Third Day

Over the weekend two significant things happened. The tinnitus amplified and morphed into a whole bunch of different sounds with crazy distortions. It would change from something that sounded like the first tone in the Emergency Broadcast System alert message that plays on TV in the United States, to a river in the distance, to dual tone, to single tone with really weird ambulance siren and chirping sounds. Beeps from devices like the microwave or refrigerator sounded very distorted. Even a toilet flushing had chirping sounds mixed in with the white noise. The tones in certain music would waiver and be off-pitch. The second ironic and significant thing that happened was my hearing started to get noticeably better, meaning it didn’t sound as muffled anymore.

Fourth Day

By the time Monday rolled around, it had been 72 hours since the onset of the sudden hearing loss. Fortunately, I was able to get an 8:30 am appointment based upon the ER referral. The doc checked me over and also suspected SSHL. He said there really is no known cause and that the incident rate is pretty rare at only 20 per 100,000 people per year. Of those that get it, about 50% recover some of their hearing. I was pretty lucky in that by Monday morning, my hearing was almost back to normal. Apparently, this isn’t always the case and often times people end up with permanent hearing loss.

An in office hearing test did reveal I was about -15 dB lower in my affected ear as compare to my left ear in the 1 kHz to 2 kHz frequency regions. It was also about -30 dB in the 8 kHz region, which translates to mild hearing loss in that range (I think I damaged my hearing working on a very loud generator several years ago, so that wasn’t a shocker).

The ENT doctor was really upset the the ER didn’t immediately start me on a steroid treatment. Especially since they didn’t see any conduction issues in the ear. He explained sudden hearing loss is a “Medical Emergency” and they should have consulted with an ENT on the phone prior to sending me home.

Since I was still within the 72-hour window from onset, treatment was still possible. However, he said it doesn’t always work and given most of my hearing was back he was hesitant to prescribe me Prednisone 14-day 20 mg x3 times treatment. He did it anyways and I started the medicine that morning.

One Week Later

About 7 days after starting the Prednisone, my hearing was back to normal. The tinnitus got really bad at days 5 and 6, such that I could hear the ringing even while walking outside with lots of noise around. But over the following days, the ringing tone decreased in loudness and turned into static sounds. The distortions also disappeared. By about day 10, the tinnitus was gone and I was 100% back to normal.

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