When Larry Thornhill woke up recently, he couldn’t hear. Ironically, his wife had the same thing happen to her several years ago, so she knew what it was.
They went to ear, nose and throat physician Dr. Raphael Nwojo. He didn’t know the cause, but he knew what to do. Nwojo injected Thornhill’s middle ear with steroids. And three or four days later, Thornhill said his hearing started to return.
“I still couldn’t hear out of my cell phone for probably four or five days,” Thornhill said. Then it got noticeably better.
Thornhill said it sounded like a river, gravel and there was a ringing in his ear.
Despite the way the treatment sounds, he said it was well worth it to get his hearing back.
Nwojo said there are many causes for sudden hearing loss from viruses to vascular problems and infections.
He injects high-dose steroids into the middle ear to reverse the inflammation. Nwojo added that it’s actually the inflammation from a virus or other source that causes the hearing loss.
“When it’s vascular, like a stroke, chances of getting it (hearing) back is almost nil. But that’s a small percentage of the time. The majority of the time, it’s a virus or other infections. It’s hard to tell. When you say viruses, there are thousands of them. If it gets into the inner ear, you’re toast,” Nwojo said.
He said if you go to a primary care doctor, they can start you on oral steroids, but that is a risk because they have systemic side effects whereas the injection is local.
Taking high-dose oral steroids can cause a variety of maladies — vascular necrosis of the hip, psychosis for some people, a spike in blood sugar, which is even worse if you’re a diabetic and it can temporarily subdue the immune system, Nwojo said.
He warns that if you wait too long, you can lose your hearing. If sudden hearing loss happens today, and he gets to it that day or the next, there is almost a 60 to 80 percent chance of reversing it. But if you wait two weeks, it drops to 50 percent and two months from the day it happens, the chance of reversing it declines to less than 10 percent.
A hearing test is conducted for a baseline and then one is done afterwards to determine how much hearing has returned.
Nwojo said he usually does three sets of injections. After the first two, he said they can usually tell the difference.
He said the phenomenon occurs in three in 100,000 people, but in his year and a half in Odessa he has had 20 to 30 patients with sudden hearing loss.