Lyme disease and sudden onset hearing loss


An article by Sowula and colleagues, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, describes nine patients with Lyme disease who had sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), also referred to as sudden deafness.[1]

The study aimed to assess the prevalence of this type of sudden onset hearing loss, particularly among Lyme disease patients. The authors explain, “Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) is defined as sensorineural hearing loss of 30 dB or more over at least three adjacent audiometric frequencies occurring within a 72-h period of time.”

This type of sudden onset hearing loss can be caused by a viral infection, vascular insufficiency, autoimmune disorder, neoplasm, stroke and irradiation. 

Treatment is directed towards the cause with standard therapy typically involving corticosteroid, vasodilators, and ionotropic agents, the authors write. Unfortunately, the cause is unknown in 90% of the cases.

The study looked at 86 patients who were hospitalized, between 2017 and 2018, due to sudden sensorineural hearing loss. As part of their evaluation for sudden onset hearing loss, patients were tested for Lyme disease.

Out of 86 patients, 9 tested positive for Lyme disease. Other studies, however, indicate that up to 21% of patients with sudden sensorineural hearing loss test positive for Lyme disease, the authors write.

Hearing loss patients with Lyme disease

On average, the 9 patients were around 47 years old, with an age range between 30 and 70. None of the Lyme disease patients responded to intravenous corticosteroids, microcirculatory drugs, or ionotropic drugs.

Seven of the nine patients with sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss were treated with oral doxycycline or intravenous ceftriaxone.  

Four patients were treated with doxycycline. Hearing improved by 10dB for one of the patients.

Complete hearing recovery with IV ceftriaxone

The remaining 3 patients, who were treated with intravenous ceftriaxone, had complete improvement in their hearing loss.  

“Those three patients reported a complete recovery of hearing (PTA shows respectively 15.20 dB HL for low frequency and 28.35 dB HL for high frequency),” the authors write.

“Infections caused by Borrelia burgdorferi may contribute to the development of inflammatory and angiopathic lesions, which are a possible cause of [sudden sensorineural hearing loss].”

Unfortunately, 2 patients were left with high-frequency tinnitus. “In these patients, tinnitus was present from the beginning of the disease,” the authors write.

The group of 9 Lyme disease patients “was treated with antibiotics and experienced partial or complete regression of their deafness,” the authors conclude. “This may suggest a relationship between [sudden sensorineural hearing loss] and Lyme disease.”

“The longer the duration of the infection, the greater the likelihood of permanent and irreversible changes in the vessels of the cochlea or auditory nerve,” the authors caution.

  1. Sowula K, Szaleniec J, Stolcman K, Ceranowicz P, Kocon S, Tomik J. Association between Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss and Lyme Disease. J Clin Med. Mar 8 2021;10(5)doi:10.3390/jcm10051130

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1 Reply to "Lyme disease and sudden onset hearing loss"

  • JudyAnn Closser
    05/06/2021 (1:35 pm)

    I was shocked to read this article on Lyme & Sudden Hearing Loss. I’ve never read this before. I definitely believe this is what happened to me. I’ve had Menieres & resultant moderate-severe hearing loss since my 20’s. In my mid-forties I contracted Lyme, Babsia & a few other virals. But, Boom! My hearing loss went straight to Profound loss. Un-aidable loss! Completely deaf! Definitely tragic & devastating in a multitude of ways! It was nearly two years before I was diagnosed with my Lyme complex and then treated. Which of course this treatment was too late for my deafness. The deafness was horrifying, but the resulting non stop tinnitus was nearly too much to endure. People don’t realize that most deafness is NOT quiet. I nearly always have four distinctly different tones, two in each ear. These tones do vary in volume & intensity, from annoying background to full on raging. Many times filling my head with sooo much noise, volume and a wind up & up & up to the point that my head is so ‘heavy’ causing complete physical exhaustion! Relief with any noise diversion tactics/therapies were of no benefit, as I could not hear them. Finally, about fifteen years later I was fortunate to have bilateral Cochlear Implants. With the CI’s the tinnitus changes completely while wearing them, is a welcomed bonus. And, I also have gradually increased to some very nice hearing in one ear, and in the other ear I’ve obtained a good ‘hearing’ levels, but still rather poor speech discrimination. Lyme itself has been an awful journey which we are all well acquainted in the multi facets, medical, economic, social & relationships. With Lyme treatment I was not cured. I was brought up out of the depths of my pain & debilitating illness to a new ‘impaired’ level of physical status and finally an acceptance of my new being. With much the same of my deafness. I have great relief with my CI’s & an acceptance of my new hearing.
    Thank you for this article and the validation of my Lyme – Hearing Loss experience.

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