What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?
By Space Coast Daily // October 7, 2021
As we age, we may gradually experience hearing loss. That hearing loss may start mild, and for some people can get more severe. Luckily, there are options to help when you do have hearing loss, such as hearing amplifiers for mild loss and hearing aids for more significant loss of hearing.
There are other situations where your hearing loss isn’t gradual. Instead, it might occur suddenly. Often, sudden hearing loss is temporary, but not always.
Below, we cover some of the reasons for sudden and often temporary hearing loss and other things you should know.
What Is Sudden Deafness?
Sudden inner hear hearing loss is also called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss. It’s also called SSHL, and it occurs when there’s a problem with the sensory organs in your inner ear. For many people, sudden deafness or hearing loss will only affect one ear.
If you develop SSHL, you might discover it when you wake up in the morning. For other people, they find it out when they first try to use their affected ear, such as to make a phone call. Another common scenario is hearing a loud pop right before your hearing goes away.
You could experience sudden deafness after some other key symptoms, like ringing in the ears or tinnitus, ear fullness, or dizziness.
Often, when people develop sudden deafness, they don’t go to the doctor right away because they think it’s something like allergies or a sinus infection. In reality, it should be considered a medical emergency.
Around half of all people with SSHL will cover some or all of their hearing ability, usually within one to two weeks. If you delay getting a diagnosis and treatment, you may not recover as well or thoroughly.
Most often, people in their late 40s and early 50s are affected by SSHL, but it can impact you at any age.
What Are the Causes of Sudden Deafness?
A few disorders that doctors know of can cause SSHL, but only around 10% of people with a diagnosis have a cause identified.
Conditions causing sudden deafness can include:
■ Head trauma
■ Autoimmune disease
■ Drug or medication exposure
■ Problems with blood circulation
■ Neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis
■ Inner ear disorders like Meniere’s disease
One of the big considerations that a doctor will keep in mind if you experience sudden deafness is whether you have it in one or both ears. The underlying causes will usually differ from one another, which is why this is an important thing to keep in mind during the diagnostic process.
Diagnosing Sudden Deafness
If you were to experience sudden deafness, again, go to the doctor as soon as you can.
Your doctor will probably rule out something called conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs because of an obstruction in your ear, like ear wax or maybe fluid.
If there’s not a cause that your doctor can identify during an initial examination, they may perform something called a pure tone audiometry test. That will begin to identify sensorineural hearing loss.
During pure tone audiometry, your doctor measures the pitches of sounds required for you to hear them.
A sign of SSHL is usually the loss of hearing at a minimum of 30 decibels.
If your doctor diagnoses sudden deafness, they’ll then order other tests to start trying to figure out what’s causing it. These tests could include imaging tests, balance tests and blood tests.
Treating Sudden Deafness
The treatment for sudden deafness most often, especially when there isn’t an identified cause, is corticosteroids. Steroids are used to treat a broad set of conditions, and they reduce inflammation and swelling.
Sometimes doctors might inject steroids through the eardrum, or they can give them orally.
It’s crucial to use steroids as soon as possible, and some doctors will advise you to start them even before your test results are complete. If you delay going to the doctor and getting steroid treatment for more than two to four weeks, then it’s less likely therapy will reverse your hearing loss.
Your doctor might give you additional treatments if they’re able to find an underlying cause for your SSHL. For example, it could be caused by an infection, in which case you might take antibiotics. If an autoimmune condition is thought to cause the condition, then you might be given immune-suppressing medications.
If you have severe hearing loss, it’s in both ears, or you don’t respond to treatment, your doctor might recommend hearing aids or cochlear implants.