Hearing loss most often comes on gradually as we age, because the most common cause of hearing loss is noise, which cumulatively damages hearing over time.
In fact, it usually comes on so gradually that we may not notice it at all until, years later, it gets to a level that interrupts our daily living.
There is, however, a phenomenon that can occur in which drastic hearing loss comes on suddenly and unexpectedly.
“Sudden Deafness,” or Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) is scary when it happens and the cause often goes unexplained, though some causes are known.
A few potential causes of SSHL are autoimmune issues, a viral attack, particular medications or barotrauma.
How do I know if I have SSHL?
SSHL comes on suddenly, often in one ear only, and can appear all at once or escalate over the course of several days.
Because it comes on so suddenly, many people think it will just go away as quickly as it came, but this is not necessarily the case.
Permanent ramifications can range from irreversible hearing loss to tinnitus (constant ringing in the ear).
What Should I Do if I Experience Sudden Hearing Loss?
Seeing your audiologist for an examination and treatment is key to preventing long-lasting complications of SSHL, so if this happens to you, don’t delay and contact your audiologist or physician right away.
What Are the Treatment Options?
The first thing your audiologist or doctor will do is attempt to find the cause of your sudden hearing loss. They may test for allergies, a blockage in your hearing canal, other signs of illness or congestion, excessive earwax, or other typical causes.
If it is determined that the sudden hearing loss is indeed SSHL you will probably be referred to an ENT doctor (Otolaryngologist) or an ER to receive steroids to address the immediate inflammation that can result in long-term hearing loss and other damage.
Sudden hearing loss is scary, but if you are prepared and know what to do if and when this uncommon malady strikes, you don’t need to panic: you can spring into action to avoid any permanent complications of it.
When you know you are not alone and this happens to others it is easier to keep a clear head and have a plan—and you will know what to do if a friend or loved one calls you in a panic because it has happened to them!
Remember that the first step to halting hearing loss and preventing further damage is to recognize your situation. Come in today for a hearing screening and formulate a strategy to train your brain to listen actively and effectively.
NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders) Fact Sheet
(1) Sudden Deafness
NIH Pub. No. 00-4757
The NIDCD maintains a directory of organizations that provide information on the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech and language. Visit the NIDCD website at https://nidcd.nih.gov/directory to search the directory.
NIDCD Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Toll Free Voice: 800-241-1044
Toll Free TTY: 800-241-1055
Diablo Hearing Services 2301 Camino Ramon, STE 106 San Ramon CA94583 (925) 394-4646