Help for Sudden Hearing Loss

One in every 5,000 Americans will suffer sudden hearing loss. It can be caused by a number of conditions including autoimmune disease, viral infection, a blood clot or a broken membrane in the ear. One-third of those never get their hearing back. A new treatment offers help where there was none.

Imagine watching TV and having every word sound muffled. For five years, that’s what every sound was like for Stacy. “I would hear somebody, but it would be a wha-wha-wha-type thing, like a radio station that’s not tuned in,” she says.

Doctors could not figure out what was wrong and offered her no help.

Stacy says, “It was different kinds of antihistamines and decongestants. One doctor years ago told me it was a sinus problem.”

Dr Li detected an autoimmune disease — her immune system was attacking her inner ear and causing inflammation. The traditional treatment of oral steroids didn’t help. Then he offered her another option.

Dr. Li says, “The newest thing in ear surgery these days is to bring medicine directly into the ear.”

The procedure is called transtympanic steroid administration. A tube is inserted into the middle ear to reach the round window. A steroid is injected and seeps through the window into the damaged inner ear.

For the first time, Stacy’s world is clearing up. “You feel like you’re part of society again. You really feel like you’re out of the loop not being able to carry on a conversation with people,” she says.

Dr. Li warns the procedure is not a miracle cure for sudden hearing loss, but it’s hope. “It’s like, well, maybe five out of 100 I might be able to bring that back to life.”

Dr. Li says the procedure works best if used within a few days of the hearing loss. Depending on the cause of the hearing loss, the procedure may have to be repeated every few months because of flare-ups.

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