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Sudden Hearing Loss

Waking up in the morning and realizing your hearing has changed suddenly in one ear can be very scary!  If you experience a sudden or rapid change in your hearing, you need to seek immediate medical attention, preferably by an ear specialist like an otolaryngologist or an otologist.  Your examination should include a complete hearing test by an audiologist.  The audiologist will explain your hearing test results to you in detail and also inform the referring physician of your results.  SSHL can happen all at once or progress over a 3 day period.  In 9 out of 10 people who experience SSHL, only one ear is affected.  People usually notice the SSHL when they wake up in the morning and others notice the SSHL when they try to use the phone.  Sometimes patients report a loud “pop” prior to their loss of hearing.  Ringing and fullness in the affected ear, and dizziness often accompany a sudden or rapid loss of hearing.

Sudden Hearing Loss Causes

Although the exact cause of sudden hearing loss is rarely diagnosed, there are over a 100 possible causes of SSHL.  An individual’s medical history plays a significant role in diagnosing a specific cause of SSHL.  Research shows SSHL can occur at any age; however individuals between the ages of 50 and 60 have the highest incidence affecting men and women essentially equally.   Possible causes of SSHL include but are not limited to:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Circulatory problems
  • Neurologic conditions
  • Trauma, specifically a head injury
  • Ototoxic medications
  • Abnormal tissue growth
  • Toxins
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Middle ear infusion
  • Cerumen Impaction
  • Viral Infections

Sudden Hearing Loss Treatment

Since SSHL has numerous possible causes there is not one specific treatment used by physicians for SSHL.  Treatments include, but are not limited to steroids, antibiotics, cessation of a particular medication, a diet low in salt and in some instances surgery.  For some patients an inhalation of carbogen, a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen, can help improve the air and blood flow inside the affected ear.  A spontaneous recovery of hearing occurs in an estimated 65% of individuals affected by SSHL.

So the take home message of this blog is if you experience a sudden change in your hearing, seek medical attention!