Sudden sensorineural (“inner ear”) hearing loss (SSHL), commonly known as sudden deafness is an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing either all at once or over a few days.
SSHL happens because there is something wrong with the sensory organs of the inner ear. Sudden deafness frequently affects only one ear.
People with SSHL often discover hearing loss upon waking up in the morning. Others first notice it when they try to use the deafened ear, such as when they use a phone. Still others notice a loud, alarming “pop” just before their hearing disappears. People with sudden deafness may also notice one or more of these symptoms: a feeling of ear fullness, dizziness, and/or a ringing in their ears, such as tinnitus.
Why is Sudden Hearing Loss a Medical Emergency?
Sudden Hearing Loss is an urgent matter! The sooner you seek attention for your sudden hearing loss, the better your chances are for a full recovery, even if the cause remains unknown. Treatment with steroids can rapidly decrease harmful inflammation that can damage the inner ear. It is extremely important that treatment with steroids is begun as soon as possible for the best effect and may even be recommended before all test results come back. About 50 percent of people who experience SSNHL will spontaneously recover all or some of their hearing within one to two weeks, but the remainder will require urgent treatment to recover hearing. It is vital to seek treatment as soon as possible, as the window to restore hearing closes about two to four weeks after the onset of the hearing loss. After that, the hearing loss will likely become permanent and irreversible. Please seek evaluation and treatment right away, and do not delay. Urgent evaluation and treatment can prevent permanent hearing loss.
What causes sudden hearing loss?
A variety of disorders affecting the ear can cause SSHL, but only about 10 percent of people diagnosed with SSHL have an identifiable cause. Some of these conditions include: viral infection, 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.
How is sudden hearing loss treated?
The most common treatment for sudden deafness, especially when the cause is unknown, is corticosteroids. Steroids can treat many disorders and usually work by reducing inflammation, decreasing swelling, and helping the body fight illness. Previously, steroids were given in pill form. At AAENT, Drs. Kleiman, Meek and Wachal are skilled at a specialized intratympanic (through the eardrum) injection of steroids. Direct intratympanic injection of steroids into the middle ear and flowing to the inner ear, has proven to be as effective a treatment as oral steroids, without the systemic side effects. The injections can be performed in the office as an outpatient and are a good option for people who cannot take oral steroids or want to avoid their side effects.
Treatment that is delayed for more than two to four weeks is less likely to reverse or reduce permanent hearing loss.
Additional treatments may be needed if your doctor discovers an underlying cause of your SSHL. For example, if SSHL is caused by an infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. If you took drugs that were toxic to the ear, you may be advised to switch to another drug. If an autoimmune condition caused your immune system to attack the inner ear, the doctor may prescribe drugs that suppress the immune system.