Sudden hearing loss

Symptoms, causes, and treatment of sudden deafness

Sudden hearing loss (SHL) - a sudden and rapid deterioration of hearing - usually develops instantaneously and is often discovered just after waking up in the morning or after an unexpected, loud popping sound in the ear. But the loss of hearing can also occur more gradually over the span of a few hours or days.  In either case, sudden hearing loss - also known as sudden deafness, sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL/SSNHL), acute hearing loss or sudden onset hearing loss - needs to be treated early on (ideally within 24 hours after it developed) to ensure the best possible outcome for your hearing.

Symptoms of sudden hearing loss

Sudden hearing loss is characterized by a sudden and rapid loss of hearing. Commonly sudden hearing loss is defined as a loss of hearing where

  • the loss of hearing happens over a period no longer than 3 Days (but often instantaneous)
  • the loss of hearing is greater than 30dB over 3 contiguous pure-tone frequencies.

To evaluate the severity of your hearing loss you will need to take a hearing test with a specialist, i.e. your doctor or an audiologist.

For a quick test of your hearing please refer to our online hearing test

In most cases, an affected person experiences sudden hearing loss in one ear. Bilateral sudden hearing loss (i.e. sudden hearing loss that affects both sides) is relatively rare. Sudden deafness also often coincides with ear pressure, dizziness, balance issues or a ringing sound in the ears - a sensation commonly known as tinnitus

Sudden hearing loss causes

Sudden hearing loss is often Idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown, but there are several identified potential reasons, including

  • Infections
  • Injuriesissues with blood circulation 
  • autoimmune diseases
  • Ototoxic drugs (i.e. medication that is toxic to the ear)
  • Diseases (e.g. Ménières Disease)
  • Immune system disorders
  • Diabetes or other metabolic disorders
  • Stress

Regaining hearing after sudden deafness

Although some people recover spontaneously from sudden deafness within a few weeks it is essential that you visit your doctor as soon as the problem arises to ensure the best possible outcome for your hearing.

Sudden hearing loss treatment

The most common treatment of sudden hearing loss is the prescription of steroids. Recovery chances are very good if the treatment starts within a matter of days (ideally within the first 24 hours) after the onset of the hearing loss. Usually, a patient will be prescribed cortisone pills to be taken orally over the course of a week or two, but it is also possible that it is given in the form of an injection.

If there is an underlying reason for the hearing loss, additional treatments may be proposed.

Sudden hearing loss and hearing aids

If your hearing does not (fully) recover you will likely be recommended to wear hearing aids or cochlear implants. Hearing aids are able to support your hearing not only through amplification but by enhancing specific frequencies and cutting out unnecessary noise.  Some devices also include tinnitus management options. Please refer to our section on hearing aids to learn more

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