Understanding Sudden Hearing Loss

Image of cartoon people, one not able to hear the other.

What would you do if you suddenly couldn’t hear out of one ear?

For too many people, the answer is “nothing,” perhaps assuming the condition is due to earwax, sinus infection or allergies. 

Sudden onset hearing loss – also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) – should be treated as a medical emergency. Hearing Associates reminds the public that quick action to receive treatment could save your hearing.

Approximately 1 in 5,000 adults experiences this strange and frightening condition each year. It manifests itself differently, sometimes being preceded by a popping sound. Other times, people just feel that their hearing is different in the morning.

SSHL is sometimes accompanied by feelings of fullness in the ear, tinnitus, and dizziness. In 90 percent of cases, it occurs in just one ear – typically first occurring in people in their mid-40s to mid-50s.

Although many types of hearing loss can be pinned down to a particular cause, it is often unknown what causes SSHL – up to just 15% of cases have a determined cause. Some conditions that have been known to cause SSHL include:

  • Inner ear disorders (such as Meniere’s)
  • Tumors
  • Ototoxic medications (those that cause hearing loss)
  • Head injury
  • Neurologic disorders or diseases (including multiple sclerosis)
  • Autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis)

A common theory about the cause of SSHL is that it stems from a viral infection affecting the hearing nerve. Swelling there can essentially strangle the nerve in the internal auditory canal. The nerve can die if left in that condition for too long – hence the need to seek immediate treatment if you notice SSHL symptoms.

If you suspect SSHL, immediately schedule a hearing test with an audiologist – even though treatments are limited, approximately 85 percent of subjects receiving prompt medical attention regain at least some of their hearing.

For more information on Hearing Associates’ services, call us at 888.760.2032.