Research Debunks Treatments for Sudden Hearing Loss

Canadian analysis says flaws in 'landmark' study negate use of steroids, other therapies

MONDAY, June 18, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- There's little scientific evidence to support the use of steroids or any other currently available therapies to treat people with sudden hearing loss, according to Canadian researchers who reviewed 21 studies conducted within the past few decades.

Systemic steroids are the most widely-used treatment for sudden sensorineural hearing loss -- the loss within three days of at least 30 decibels of hearing over at least three test frequencies. The condition affects five to 20 out of every 100,000 people a year, according to background information in the article. Spontaneous recovery occurs in 32 percent to 70 percent of patients.

Along with steroids, other therapies used to treat sudden hearing loss include antiviral medications, vitamins, minerals, herbs, hyperbaric oxygen and blood-diluting agents.

The researchers at the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario said they found no scientific evidence that any of these methods are effective. They noted that all the studies with positive findings had serious limitations, including a report cited as a landmark study for the use of steroids.

That "landmark" study was not a randomized trial (and therefore may have produced exaggerated treatment effects), used inconsistent doses of steroids, and did not measure outcomes at the same time for all participants.

"To our knowledge, no valid randomized controlled trial exists to determine effective treatment of sudden sensorineural hearing loss," the researchers concluded. "Systemic steroids cannot be considered the gold standard of treatment of sudden sensorineural hearing loss, given the severe limitations of the landmark study supporting their use."

The researchers also said a separate meta-analysis of five studies found that steroids were no more effective than placebo in treating sudden hearing loss. In addition, they found no differences between treatment with antiviral medications/steroids versus placebo/steroids or treatment with steroids versus any other active treatments.

The findings were published in the June issue of Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has more about sudden hearing loss.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, June 18, 2007
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