This week I found out that any sudden, noticeable reduction in hearing should be treated urgently as a medical emergency. It should be treated with the same importance that sudden blindness would be. So how come this is not the case in the UK’s NHS? In order to have a reasonable chance of saving someones hearing, high dose corticosteroids (either tablet or injection) need to be given ideally within 72 hours (but also can be effective up to 1 month). Why do I observe that this is happens for people abroad but not for us in the UK?
I called my GP at week 2 and reported my concern about my major drop in hearing and I was told me to rest and it would pass. So I obediently rested but nothing improved. Now I was really starting to worry. It was week 4 and my hearing seemed to be getting worse all the time, no-one seemed to be doing anything to help me.
I’d been phoning the surgery asking the GP to refer me to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist but he said he couldn’t do this without seeing me. So I dragged myself out of the house for the first time since I’d got ill. I staggered up the road holding onto the walls looking like a very embarrassed alcoholic to all the children going to school. When he saw me he said he’d never seen anyone looking quite so unstable and unbalanced. He looked in my ears and said my eardrums looked a bit swollen but they were intact, and that he would refer me to a specialist but that it could be up to 1 month wait.
I could not wait that long. I got straight on the phone to ask the ENT clinic to bring my appointment forward. They had scheduled it for a month away but they were able to bring it forward to just a few weeks. If you are waiting for an appointment my advice is to call push and nag. Don’t wait too long because they’ll just forget about you. If they understand the urgency and you can get them on your side, they might be able to bring your appointment forward.
But everywhere I looked I could see the warnings that sudden hearing loss needs to be treated and was getting increasingly worried that not enough was being done to save my hearing. A friend of mine who once worked in the NHS within audiology, urged me to go to A&E and assured me that they would deal with my hearing loss and my ongoing vertigo/inability to walk straight. So on her advice, my mum and I packed a bag of food and headed over to A&E for Mothers Day. We were expecting a long wait but were willing to go to any length to get treated. But actually all they did was send me home and tell me to wait for my ENT appointment in 2 weeks.
The UK’s National Health System (NHS) do not respond to sudden hearing loss (SSHL) as a Medical Emergency at all despite the NHS website itself saying that it should be. I think this is a crying shame and wonder just how many thousands of people are being left to become deafened when there are effective treatments out there.
There is no guarantee that steroids will work in every case but if the treatment exists then we should not be denied the possibility of access to it within the necessary time frame due to ineffective process and an overall lack of understanding or training of NHS staff!