Sudden deafness, known medically as sudden sensorineural hearing loss or SSHL, is an unexplained episode of rapid hearing loss, typically only affecting one ear. There are a number of potential causes for this condition, and it may be a sign of a medical emergency, meaning you need to seek medical attention immediately. Understanding the signs and symptoms of sudden deafness can ensure you seek treatment in time.
How Does Sudden Deafness Appear?
This rapid loss of hearing can be immediate or happen slowly over a few days. Many report hearing a loud pop before their hearing goes, or simply wake up without being able to hear in one ear. Additional symptoms of sudden deafness include ear fullness, dizziness and tinnitus.
Even though most cases of sudden deafness have no identifiable cause, experts believe this type of hearing loss occurs as the result of:
- Head trauma
- Autoimmune disease
- Exposure to certain drugs
- Poor blood circulation
- Neurological disorders
- Inner ear disorders
How Common Is SSHL?
Experts estimate that between one and six out of every 5,000 people experience a sudden loss of hearing every year; some think the number is significantly higher. While the condition can affect those of all ages, it is primarily seen in adults in their 40s and 50s.
Nearly half of those with SSHL will regain their hearing within one to two weeks of the onset of symptoms.
How to Diagnosis Sudden Deafness
In order to make a diagnosis, your audiologist will first rule out earwax or fluid buildup as the cause. Once these obvious causes are eliminated, a pure tone test is completed to determine what frequencies of sound you can and cannot hear. This is important, as a telltale sign of sudden deafness is hearing loss of at least 30 decibels in three connected frequencies within 72 hours.
Additional tests may also be ordered to try to determine the cause for your condition, including balance tests, blood tests and imaging.
Is Sudden Deafness Treatable?
Sudden deafness without an identifiable cause is usually treated with corticosteroids. This can help reduce inflammation, decrease swelling and help your body fight off any illness. Early intervention is key, as the longer you wait, the higher the risk of permanent hearing loss.
If your hearing loss does not return after treatment, hearing aids or cochlear implants may be recommended.
To learn more about treating sudden deafness or to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, contact the experts at Mt. Hood ENT today.