Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, also known as sudden deafness, is an abrupt and often unexplained loss of hearing, usually in one ear. It typically affects adults in their 40s and 50s, and is estimated to strike one in 5,000 people every year (though the actual number may be higher because the condition frequently goes undiagnosed).
People usually notice that they have sudden hearing loss when they wake up or try to use the phone. Sometimes there’s a loud ‘pop’ right before a person’s hearing disappears, and some people become dizzy or experience ringing in their ears.
This ringing is known as tinnitus. Tinnitus is essentially when you hear a sound that isn’t coming from an external source. Normally described as ringing, it can also sound like clicking, buzzing, humming, whistling or hissing. Some people hear sounds similar to music or singing, or noises that beat in time with their pulse. This common condition tends to be temporary and minor, but is occasionally more persistent, particularly when it’s linked to another condition like sudden hearing loss.
What causes sudden hearing loss?
A very small minority of sudden hearing loss cases are attributable to stroke, multiple sclerosis or a benign tumour. Most cases are classified as idiopathic, which means they have no identifiable root cause. Inflammation of the inner ear is generally thought to be the most likely cause of the hearing loss itself, but what causes the inflammation is unclear. More than 50 different possible causes have been described, but the most popular theories to explain these cases are:
- viral infection
- a defect or rupture in the bony capsule of the inner ear
- a problem with the immune system
- impaired circulation
The reason Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is such an effective way of improving idiopathic sudden hearing loss is that it is scientifically proven to ameliorate all these issues. HBOT reduces inflammation, improves circulation, fights infection, boosts the immune system, and promotes fast healing of damaged tissues. It essentially tackles every major theoretical cause of this condition.
How does HBOT work?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy involves entering a purpose-built hyperbaric chamber and breathing in 100% oxygen at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressures. The pressure conditions open up the body’s cells and boost the ability of the blood to absorb oxygen. Ordinary respiration causes oxygen to travel around the body in the haemoglobin, but HBOT causes additional oxygen to travel in the plasma as well, reaching areas that the haemoglobin can’t.
In effect, HBOT causes a person to become hyperoxygenated. Every single tissue becomes saturated with it, bringing immeasurable benefits to the inner workings of the body. This is because all of our basic functions rely on oxygen as their primary fuel source. By enabling our body to absorb more of it, we’re forcing it to perform better and faster.
The healing powers of HBOT can be broken down as follows:
- Reduced inflammation and improved blood flow — extra oxygen promotes rapid growth of new blood vessels, which are then available for healing and repair purposes, transporting vital nutrients and amino acids to inflamed and injured areas.
- Better immunity — increased oxygen concentration in the body tissues helps them resist infection. At the same time, extra oxygen improves the ability of the white blood cells to find and destroy infectious substances, and inhibits the release of toxins by certain bacteria.
- Higher stem cell count — HBOT is clinically proven to trigger the release and proliferation of stem cells in the body. Stem cells are crucial for healing because of their ability to transform into new cells, replacing damaged ones.
Dr Philip James, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Dundee, sums up the healing power of oxygen like this:
Is there any evidence that HBOT is an effective solution for hearing loss?
A 2014 study by K. Gaitanou et al shows that for people with idiopathic sudden hearing loss and tinnitus, HBOT significantly improves hearing and reduces the symptoms and intensity of tinnitus. Earlier studies evaluated by the Cochrane Collaboration also demonstrate the efficacy of HBOT in hearing loss cases. In addition, there is evidence that HBOT improves the effectiveness of conventional treatments for sudden sensorineural hearing loss, as shown by W. Narozny’s 2004 study in the case of glucocorticoids. Narozny said this:
The research shows that whatever the elusive cause of sudden hearing loss may be, HBOT is successful in tackling it, particularly when combined with other treatments and started early.
For advice on how our Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy can help with hearing loss and tinnitus, book a consultation with our hyperbaric expert, Robert Pender, at our clinic in Chelsea, London. The number of hyperbaric sessions you will need to improve your hearing or tinnitus will be discussed in your initial consultation.