Is Sudden Hearing Loss an Emergency?

Sudden Hearing Loss Emergency

There are approximately 66,000 cases a year of sudden hearing loss in the United States. Spontaneous hearing loss has multiple causes and treatments that depend on the cause. Knowing the right information can prevent irreversible damage to your ear. 

What is Sudden Deafness?

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) is characterized by a normally unexplained and quick loss of hearing that occurs either all at once or over a few days. People with this medical condition often discover hearing loss right when they wake up, while others first notice it when they do any activity that requires hearing. Many patients hear a “popping” sound just before their hearing disappears. People with sudden deafness may also feel ear fullness, dizziness, and/or a ringing in their ears.  

What Causes SSHL?

SSHL happens because there is something off with the sensory organs of the inner ear. Sudden deafness frequently affects only one ear but it may affect both ears in severe cases. Although most cases of sudden hearing loss are unexplained, some known causes are:

  • Infections

  • An immune system malfunction

  • An inflammatory injury to the ear

  • Blocked blood flow to the ear

Neurological disorders

Meniere’s disease

Exposure to certain drugs

Should You Go To The Emergency Room Promptly When You Lose Your Hearing Suddenly?

Sudden Hearing Loss is a serious matter!  Even if the doctor cannot diagnose your cause of hearing loss, the sooner you begin treatment for your sudden hearing loss, the better your chances of fully restoring your hearing. About half of people who experience this condition will recover all or some hearing within 14 days. The rest of the patients will require urgent treatment to recover hearing.  

Sometimes, people that suddenly lose their hearing do not go to the emergency room immediately because they believe their hearing loss is due to simple causes like:

  • Allergies

  • A sinus infection

  • Earwax plugging the ear canal

It is critical that you seek treatment for any type of hearing loss as soon as possible because the time period to restore hearing closes about two to four weeks after the hearing loss begins. After this time period, your hearing will be irreparable. 

How Is SSHL Diagnosed?

A doctor will use a hearing test called pure tone audiometry to diagnose your hearing loss. This test helps the doctor determine if the hearing loss is caused by sound not reaching the inner ear or by a sensorineural deficiency. Pure tone audiometry can also show the range of hearing that’s been lost.

If you are diagnosed with spontaneous deafness, your doctor will order other tests to try to determine an underlying cause for symptoms. These tests may include blood tests, imaging, and balance tests.

What Treatment Is Best For SSHL?

For unknown causes of hearing loss, the most popular treatment for sudden deafness is corticosteroids. Steroids reduce inflammation, decrease swelling, and help the body fight illness. Traditionally, steroids were given in pill form and have major side effects. The team at Anne Arundel ENT in Annapolis, MD has decades of experience and are specialized in a new and equally effective technique that allows steroids to be injected through the eardrum. This procedure is a good choice for patients who cannot take oral steroids or wish to avoid their side effects.

When your doctor finds the cause for your hearing loss, additional treatments may be required. These treatments vary, depending on the cause. For example, if your hearing loss was caused by bacteria, then antibiotics are the proper treatment. If your hearing loss is severe or it is not responding to treatment, your doctor may recommend hearing aids to improve your hearing. If you are experiencing sudden hearing loss and want to avoid permanently losing your hearing ability, contact the Anne Arundel ENT medical team immediately. To make an appointment, call 410-573-9191 and begin your treatment. 

Lee A. Kleiman

Dr. Lee A. Kleiman is a double board certified ENT & plastic surgeon at Anne Arundel ENT in Annapolis, Maryland known for his superior clinical outcomes in all Surgical and Non-Surgical ENT, specializing in Sinus Care, Voice and Swallowing, Rhinoplasty and Revision Rhinoplasty, and Facelifts and Non-surgical Aesthetic. He also continues to attend conferences internationally and nationally to keep abreast of the latest treatments and technology.