The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a division of the National Institute for Health (NIH), defines sudden deafness as “unexplained, rapid loss of hearing – usually in one ear – either at once or over several days.”
Anyone who has experienced this should seek medical help immediately. It may be something as simple as earwax clogging the ear canal. However, if the cause is serious, like damage to the inner ear, any delays in treatment can negatively impact the success of the treatment.
Sudden deafness is also called Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) and it should be viewed as a medical emergency. A quick hearing test is used to diagnose SSHL and to determine if the hearing loss is due to a blockage or a sensory issue. AmericanHearing.org states that a loss of 30 decibels of hearing affecting at least three linked frequencies is the standard for a diagnosis of SSHL. A healthcare provider may order blood tests and scans to attempt to pinpoint the exact cause of the hearing loss.
What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?
Ninety percent of people with SSHL will lose hearing in only one ear and many will first notice it in the morning when they wake, when they try to use the deaf ear, or after a loud popping sound in the ear. SSHL may also cause ringing in the ear, dizziness or both. It is often difficult to determine why it happens, but here are some of the common causes:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises
- Head trauma
- Autoimmune diseases
- Ototoxic drugs (like some chemotherapy drugs)
- Blood circulation problems
- Ménière’s disease
- Neurologic issues like Multiple Sclerosis
- Lyme disease
- Congenital causes
What is the Treatment for SSHL?
In around fifty percent of patients, hearing will return in the same spontaneous way it was lost, usually within fourteen days or so. Overall treatment rates are solid with an estimated eighty-five percent of patients regaining some level of hearing, either spontaneously or with treatment, according to the NIDCD.
When a precise cause can be identified, appropriate treatments will be provided. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the cause is found to be an infection. Immune suppression drugs may be used if the cause is determined to be an autoimmune disease.
A common treatment for sudden hearing loss with an unknown cause is corticosteroids. Steroids reduce inflammation and decrease swelling to help the body fight illnesses and infections. Steroids are used to treat a wide variety of issues and ailments and should be used as directed by a healthcare professional for the best results.
Sudden Hearing Loss and Stroke
With fast care, SSHL patients can experience good results from treatment but should be aware that there is some recent research that points to a relationship between sudden hearing loss and impending stroke. The study authors recommend seeing a neurologist if diagnosed with SSHL by your hearing healthcare provider.
Schedule a hearing evaluation with us to assess your hearing health and remember to seek help immediately if you experience sudden hearing loss.