Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED) Explained

The human body is a marvel. We literally have the capacity to heal ourselves from within. It’s a remarkable feat when you really stop to think about it.

Our immune system is constantly working to ensure that our bodies remain free of infection and disease. In cases where our immune system finds a foreign invader, it springs into action. As our immune system attacks the foreign invader, we often experience accompanying symptoms. Think of when you have a cold – stuffy nose, coughing, lethargy are all indications of our immune system’s battle against the foreign virus.

In some people, the immune system doesn’t work as expected. Instead, their immune system can mistakenly identify the body as a foreign invader. As a result, the immune system launches an attack on the body itself. This is known as an autoimmune reaction. One such reaction is Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED).

Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED) Explained

What is Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease? 

Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED) is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the inner ear. This can result in hearing loss.

How Common is AIED? 

AIED is a rare disease. Of the estimated 28 million Americans with hearing loss, less than 1% was caused by AIED. 

What Causes AIED? 

There is no direct cause for AIED. It is caused by the body’s immune system mistaking cells in your inner ear as a foreign invader. It’s estimated that just under 30% of people with AIED have another “autoimmune disease that affects their whole body, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma.” (Source)

What are the Symptoms of AIED? 

The main symptom of AIED is hearing loss. Generally, this loss begins in one ear and then spreads to the second ear. This progression can happen in a few weeks, or may take a few months.

Additional symptoms of Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease include:  

How is AIED Diagnosed? 

The symptoms of AIED are quite common in other ear-related issues. As a result, in the early stages it can often be mis-diagnosed as an ear infection.

There is no definitive test for AIED. however, your primary care physician will take a detailed medical history. They will conduct a physical exam and a hearing assessment. They will likely test your balance, and blood work may be requested.

Is AIED Treatable? 

The standard treatment option for AIED is medication to reduce the immune system’s response. Known as immunosuppressive medication, they may include: steroids.

If you experience hearing loss due to AIED, using hearing aids may benefit you. Speak to your hearing healthcare specialist to explore potential options.

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