Objective: To determine the incidence of tinnitus and associated handicap after unilateral sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL); in addition, to determine the hearing handicap experienced as a consequence of such a loss.
Study design: Identification of patients and determination of demographic and audiologic data by retrospective case review; determination of handicap and distress by postal questionnaire.
Setting: Teaching hospital department of otolaryngology.
Patients: Thirty-eight patients were identified as having been treated for a unilateral sudden sensorineural hearing loss in the period 1988 through 1997. Of those, 21 (55.3%) replied to the questionnaire.
Main outcome measures: Audiometric data at admission and at 4-week follow-up, Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI), visual analogue scales of tinnitus loudness and distress, Hearing Handicap Inventory in Adults (HHIA).
Results: The questionnaire responder group did not significantly differ from the questionnaire nonresponder group on demographic nor audiometric variables, and hence were considered to be a representative sample. Tinnitus was present in 14 patients (67%). Hearing handicap was found in 86% of patients (of the 21 questionnaire responders) and tinnitus handicap in 57% (of the 14 with tinnitus). Correlations were found between tinnitus loudness, distress, and handicap. There was no correlation between time elapsed since SSNHL and tinnitus or hearing handicap, nor was there a correlation between the extent of audiometric loss and hearing or tinnitus handicap. A strong negative correlation was, however, found between recovery in audiometry in the first 4 weeks after onset and tinnitus and hearing handicap. The audiometric status of the contralateral ear correlated with hearing handicap.
Conclusions: A majority of patients after unilateral SSNHL have a perceived handicap associated with tinnitus and hearing. Although this condition is an otologic emergency, careful thought should be given to the audiologic rehabilitation of this patient group.