Our ability to hear is something we often take for granted. We don’t understand the wonder of hearing until the sounds around us are taken away. Although hearing loss is generally gradual, it can sometimes be sudden. If you experience a sudden loss of hearing, a number of factors might be at play. You should always treat the problem as a medical emergency.
What is Sudden Hearing Loss?
Officially known as sudden idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss, sudden hearing loss is a rapid, unexplained reduction in hearing that typically occurs in one ear. The exact cause of idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss is unknown. It can occur at any time, but it most commonly occurs in the morning after a person wakes up.
This type of hearing loss may occur with a loud “popping” sound, or it may be accompanied by other ear-related symptoms, including tinnitus or a feeling of fullness in the ear. Roughly 1 in 5000 people will experience sudden hearing loss. It can occur at any age, although it more commonly affects people in their forties and fifties.
Sudden hearing loss is often treated by corticosteroids, taken either orally or through direct injection into the eardrum (intratympanic). These steroids can fight illness, reduce swelling, and decrease inflammation in the inner ear. Steroids can be prescribed by a physician, but any intratympanic injections must be administered by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat physician). Steroids are most effective when taken immediately after experiencing sudden hearing loss, but chances of recovery decline if treatment is not administered within two to four weeks.
Even with timely treatment, some hearing may not fully recover. If hearing loss persists, hearing aids may be recommended depending on its severity. If you or someone you know has experienced sudden hearing loss, call an audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat physician right away. Timely treatment is crucial, and sudden hearing loss should always be treated as a medical emergency.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Sudden deafness. National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/sudden-deafness.