Sudden Hearing Loss Demystified

Picture of puzzle piece in head

One minute you could hear and the next minute it was gone. What could possibly cause a person’s hearing to suddenly disappear? The answer might not be what you expect. It is easy to associate this sudden decrease in hearing with something simple like the shifting of ear wax or maybe a change in sinus pressure, but the truth is much more complex.

What You Need to Know About Sudden Hearing Loss

It is possible that there is a benign explanation for a sudden decrease in hearing, but true spontaneous hearing loss is not something you should ignore. In most cases, the deafness will hit without warning and, unlike earwax blockage, it is not a conductive problem. In other words, the sound is reaching the inner ear.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, SSHL, is an unexplained phenomenon that can occur suddenly, as the name suggests, or progressively over a few days and it is a medical emergency. You may experience dizziness, and ringing in the affected ear, as well.

The exact cause of SSHL varies. For some, it might be an infectious or circulatory problem, for others, the cause is what doctor call idiopathic, or of unknown origin.

What is the Treatment for SSHL?

That varies, as well, depending on if the medical professionals can determine the underlying cause. For some people, their hearing will return spontaneously, as well, but you should always assume your hearing is at risk and seek treatment. For many conditions related to SSHL, immediate treatment is the only way to preserve the hearing. For example, if the cause is a blockage of the cochlear artery, it can affect the blood supply to the inner ear leading to permanent damage.

For others, the sudden hearing loss might be the first symptom they get of chronic disease that requires treatment like osteoporosis or diabetes.

What About Idiopathic SSHL?

What can they do if they don’t know what is causing the deafness? Idiopathic SSHL is a mystery, so it is hard to treat. One current theory is the there is a virus attacking the inner ear. It may also be an autoimmune condition such as Cogan’s syndrome. Oral corticosteroids are one treatment modality that seems to help, along with antivirals.

The takeaway here is to seek help immediately if you experience sudden hearing loss or even if you notice dizziness or ringing in one ear that wasn’t there before.

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