Hearing Loss

Is Sudden Hearing Loss an Emergency?

Is Sudden Hearing Loss an Emergency?

While hearing loss is typically gradual, occurring over a period of time, sometimes, hearing loss can occur quite suddenly and without warning.

Sudden hearing loss, or sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), occurs when someone loses hearing, typically in one ear, over a period of 3 days or less.

It may seem like no big deal, and you may want to brush it off, but sudden hearing loss is an emergency and the sooner you seek treatment, the better the results will be.

What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.

Sudden hearing loss can be caused by viruses, infections (commonly Lyme disease or syphilis), inflammation, autoimmune diseases, head trauma, circulation issues, neurological disorders, and even medications like those used to treat cancer.

In some instances, SSNHL can be a sign of a small stroke or a tumor.

While there are times when other health conditions can be identified as the culprit, more often than not the cause of sudden hearing loss remains undetermined.

Symptoms of Sudden Hearing Loss

The most common symptom of sudden hearing loss is feeling pressure or fullness in one ear. For many, this feels similar to an ear infection or a buildup of water or earwax, so they do not seek treatment right away.

Tinnitus, which is a ringing, hissing, whooshing, or roaring sound in the affected ear is also a symptom of sudden hearing loss.

Dizziness and vertigo may also be present with sudden hearing loss.

How To Tell The Difference Between a Stuffed-Up Ear And Sudden Hearing Loss

Determining whether your symptoms are an emergency or just built-up earwax can be a little tricky.

If you are experiencing symptoms and are unsure, try humming. With healthy hearing, you will hear the hum in both ears, whereas if you are experiencing hearing loss, the sound will be louder on one side or the other.

You can test this right now by covering one of your ears and humming. Take your hand away and bring it back. Did you notice the difference?

Say, for example, you are experiencing symptoms in your right ear, and the hum is louder on the right side, the hearing loss is likely due to a wax build-up or congestion from a cold.

If, however, the humming is louder in the left ear, it is possible that the hearing loss is due to nerve damage and you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Will Hearing Return?

The good news is that it may be possible to regain hearing with sudden hearing loss.

Several studies have found that 45%-65% of people with idiopathic SSNHL, meaning it has no discernable cause, regain their hearing to pre-loss thresholds without medical intervention. For those that do not, assistive devices and hearing aids may be a solution.

However, there is no way to tell who will regain their hearing and who will not, which is why it is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible when experiencing a sudden loss.

Generally speaking, individuals who seek treatment within 10-14 days of the onset of hearing loss see the best results. Failure to seek treatment could result in a permanent loss of hearing.

Understanding Common Treatment for Sudden Hearing Loss

The most common treatment for sudden hearing loss is corticosteroids, taken over two to three weeks.

Other treatments may be necessary when the cause of the hearing loss is identified. If, for example, your SSNHL can be traced to an infection, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed.

If the cause is related to an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the inner ear, you may be prescribed an immunosuppressant.

Know When to Seek Help for Sudden Hearing Loss

The fact is, sudden hearing loss is never a “normal” thing. It may be benign and easily addressed, but it is never something to just ignore.

All too often people attribute their sudden hearing loss to allergies, a head cold, water in the ear, or a wax build-up, and delay assessment or don’t seek it at all.

If you experience sudden hearing loss, always err on the side of caution and visit an audiologist or ENT for further investigation. These hearing health professionals can assess the situation quickly and identify your best treatment options.

Remember, even a wax build-up should be treated, so do not hesitate!

Get Support for Sudden Hearing Loss with Chicago Hearing Services

Experiencing sudden hearing loss can be a scary thing, which is why you need compassionate and friendly specialists who can test your hearing and assess the situation before it is too late.

At Chicago Hearing Services, we understand and we want to help you find the answers you need to continue living your best life.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.

About Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.