About one in 5,000 people will develop sudden hearing loss in their lifetime. Sudden hearing loss, also known as sudden deafness, is an unexplained rapid loss of hearing that usually happens in one ear. It can occur all at once or take place gradually over the course of a few days. This condition is considered an emergency. If you experience sudden hearing loss, you should visit a doctor immediately. Some patients delay seeing a physician after experiencing sudden hearing loss because they think it’s due to something benign like excess earwax, allergies, or a sinus infection. The truth is, the longer you delay diagnosis for this condition, the less likely it is that treatment will be effective.
How Does Sudden Hearing Loss Happen?
For most people, sudden deafness happens in only one ear. A lot of people notice it suddenly when they wake up in the morning. Others notice it when trying to use one ear, such as talking on a phone or using earbuds. Sometimes there’s a loud popping noise just before the hearing diminishes. Often they have a ringing in their ears, get dizzy, or experience both.
About half the people with sudden hearing loss will just as suddenly recover their hearing within a couple of weeks. About 85 percent of all people who see a hearing specialist about their hearing loss will recover at least some of it.
The Causes of Sudden Deafness
In most cases, we never know exactly why sudden hearing loss happens. In up to 15 percent of patients, we can trace the cause back to a physical problem such as:
- Blood circulation problems
- A tumor on the nerve connecting the brain to the ear
- Infectious disease
- Drugs that are toxic to the ear
- Head injury or other trauma
- Disorders of the inner ear
Treatment for Sudden Deafness
In many cases, particularly where the cause can’t be determined, the most common treatment is corticosteroids. These work by reducing inflammation and decreasing swelling as well as helping the body to fight off illness. If your doctor finds a direct cause for the sudden deafness, she or he may prescribe other treatments.
Sudden hearing loss can be frightening and frustrating, but in most cases it responds very well to medical treatment, especially if the hearing loss is identified soon after it develops. If you have questions about hearing loss and its causes, contact one of our local experts!