Q: My 42-year-old husband suddenly lost hearing in one ear. They did some blood tests and he was given steroids. But he has not improved. Is there anything else that can be done?
A: There are two basic types of hearing loss: conductive and sensorineural.
Sensorineural hearing loss is a problem stemming from one of two things. It can be a problem with the intricate apparatus that translates sound waves into nerve impulses (the sensory part of sensorineural). Or it can be a problem with the auditory nerve that sends those impulses to the brain (the neural part).
I can't stress enough the importance of getting a hearing test as soon as possible if you've lost hearing suddenly. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent permanent damage and loss of hearing.
Judging by the steroid treatment your husband received, my guess is that he had a sensorineural problem caused by inflammation.
"Steroids" in this instance is short for corticosteroids. They are powerful anti-inflammatories. They should not be confused with the anabolic steroids used by athletes to get stronger.
Early treatment with corticosteroids has the potential to reverse the inflammation before there is permanent damage. But it doesn't always work.
Your son should ask his doctor about a bone-anchored hearing aid. It can be very useful for people with one-sided sensorineural hearing loss. The procedure doesn't restore nerve function. But it can make it easier for him to hear with the good ear without always turning his head.
(Howard LeWine, M.D., is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass., and Chief Medical Editor of Internet Publishing at Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.)
(For additional consumer health information, please visit http://www.health.harvard.edu.)
Sudden hearing loss needs prompt medical attention
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