Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden-onset hearing loss

Sudden drop or loss of hearing in one ear is a medical emergency that generally goes undiagnosed, and prompt treatment might just save your hearing. Also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or SSHL, usually occurs all at once or over the course of several days. Most people think that they are suffering from allergies, an earwax  (cerumen) in the ear, ear infection, or a sinus infection. Therefore, they might decide not to seek care. Additionally, most urgent care physicians are not equipped to differentiate it from an ear infection that can cause hearing loss but is not as serious.

Symptoms of sudden hearing loss

Some people notice sudden hearing loss when they wake up first thing in the morning and realize their hearing is different. Others don not notice a difference until they hold the phone up to the affected ear or try to listen to headphones. In some cases SSHL is preceded by a very noticeable “pop," which can be quite alarming. Afterward, some patients report a feeling of fullness in the affected ear or a strange feeling on that side of the head, possibly accompanied by tinnitus and dizziness. The tinnitus may be noticed at the same time or after the recovery from the hearing loss. 

Causes

One of the most common causes of sudden hearing loss is a viral infection of the hearing nerve. The swelling that occurs in the affected nerve causes it to become strangled in the narrow, bony canal that leads to the ear (the internal auditory canal). If it stays in that state for too long, the auditory nerve dies. That is why it is so important to seek immediate treatment—the window of time during which hearing can be saved in these cases is very narrow (usually up to a week). In rare cases, a tumor on the hearing nerve causes the symptoms. 

Testing for sudden hearing loss

If you suspect you might have SSHL, the first step is to make an appointment with an Audiologist (or an ENT office with an audiologist present on staff). He/she will conduct a hearing test called pure tone audiometry and tympanometry to determine the type and degree of the hearing loss. Without immediate action, there is likely to be less benefit and more burden to patients, their families, and the healthcare system."

Treating sudden hearing loss

Only 50% of patient, who develop SSHL will have some degree of spontaneous recovery. Of note is that eighty five percent of those who receive prompt medical attention regain some or all of their hearing. Corticosteroids are the most common treatment for SSHL. They work by helping the body fight illness, decreasing swelling and reducing inflammation. Usually administered in pill form, the steroids also can be given through an injection behind the eardrum. Some patients still have lingering tinnitus after SSHL. We can help you with the tinnitus after SSHL. If the hearing is not restored to normal or near normal, variety of hearing solutions are available.