Mon-Fri: 8am-7pm 1-888-309-0945
Online Hearing Test
Find out how good your hearing is in just three minutes. The online hearing test provides valuable information about your hearing.

A sudden loss of your hearing can be alarming, but many people downplay its seriousness, passing it off as a secondary symptom of sinus infections, ear wax obstruction or other ear common conditions. A sudden loss of hearing is a serious medical condition that should be addressed immediately. Here’s what you need to know about sudden deafness.

What is sudden deafness?

Middle aged man having trouble hearingSudden hearing loss or sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) is an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing. This condition typically only affects one ear and can occur all at once or over several days. The onset of deafness is different for everyone. Some experience hearing loss when they wake up in the morning and others notice a definitive “pop” in their ear before hearing loss occurs. SSHL is considered to be a medical emergency and delaying treatment may result in permanent hearing loss. 

Sudden hearing loss symptoms

Symptoms for sudden hearing loss vary from person to person. However, there are some common symptoms that have been reported by SSHL sufferers. Symptoms may include:
  • Voices and music can suddenly sound muffled
  • Difficulty following group conversations
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty hearing when there’s a lot of background noise
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
  • Balance problems
  • Tinnitus

Causes of sudden deafness

The specific cause of sudden deafness is unknown. Medical professions do suspect that it may involve a circulatory disorder in the smallest blood vessels of the inner ear. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), only about 10 percent of people diagnosed with SSHL have an identifiable cause.

Some of these conditions include:
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Head trauma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Ototoxic medications
  • Blood circulation problems
  • Neurological disorders
  • Meniere’s disease or other disorders of the inner ear
  • Stress
  • Migraines
  • Tumors
  • Congenital

What to do in the event of acute hearing loss?

The best course of action is to immediately get medical help when you suddenly lose hearing. Early treatment for any type of hearing loss is best when a professional can diagnose the cause from the onset of symptoms. According to the NIDCD, SSHL strikes about one person per 5,000 every year, typically adults in their 40s and 50s. However, with immediate treatment, most will recover their hearing. 

Wait or seek treatment?

Although most gradual hearing loss doesn’t represent an emergency, the NIDCD considers sudden hearing loss a medical emergency. If you suddenly lose the ability to hear out of one or both of your ears, you should contact your Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) or primary care doctor immediately. If there is pain or hearing loss is the result of head trauma, you should go to the emergency room.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss treatments

There is not a single or ideal treatment for SSHL. Treatments will vary depending on the cause and severity of the deafness. However, most people who receive prompt medical attention can regain some or all of their hearing. The common treatments for SSHL include the following: 
Corticosteroids are a type of steroid used to reduce inflammation, decrease swelling and help the body fight illness. It’s typically prescribed in pill form and used to reduce swelling in the inner ear.
Intratympanic Therapy
This is an option for patients who can not take an oral steroid. A highly concentrated liquid steroid is administered via needle behind the eardrum in the middle ear. A clinical trial by the NIDCD showed that intratympanic steroids were no less effective than oral steroids.
In other instances, when standard treatments prove to be unsuccessful, a hydroxyethyl starch (HES) infusion has also proven to be successful in some clinical trials.
Additional Treatments
Non-steroid treatments may be needed if your doctor discovers an actual underlying cause of SSHL. If the underlying cause for the SSHL is an infection, a course of antibiotics may cure the hearing loss.  Or, if an autoimmune condition causes your immune system to attack the inner ear, specific medication may be prescribed to suppress your immune system.

What are the chances of success?

Early treatment with steroids typically results in restoring hearing loss.  One study showed that 54.5 percent of people with SSHL showed at least partial recovery in the first 10 days of treatment. However, a small percentage affected by SSHL  will continue to have some hearing loss. In these cases, a hearing aid can help.

Diagnosing sudden hearing loss

Diagnosing sudden hearing loss involves a review of symptoms, a review of medical history,  a visual examination of the ear, and a hearing test called pure tone audiometry. Once a blockage in the ear canal or damage to the eardrum is ruled out, your doctor can determine if an underlying condition or other factors led to the onset of the hearing loss. Finally, your doctor will administer a hearing test to determine the range of hearing loss.

Can sudden hearing loss be prevented?

Because sudden hearing loss is difficult to pinpoint, the best way to prevent it is to live a healthy lifestyle.  A healthy lifestyle includes avoiding stress, sticking to a healthy diet, and exercising. By reducing your risk factors for developing some of the common underlying conditions that contribute to hearing loss, you will be less likely to lose your hearing because of them. Also, always wearing ear protection when you are in noisy environments and protecting your head by wearing a helmet when biking also reduces the risk of hearing loss. 

Other topics

Hearing Loss – Hearing Impairment
Tinnitus Causes and Symptoms
What is an audiogram?