Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, is the abnormal rapid loss of hearing in one or both ears – instantaneously or over the course of several days. Many people who encounter SSHL neglect seeing a doctor because they attribute the hearing loss due to allergies, earwax, and other everyday conditions. However, SSHL should be considered a medical emergency; delaying treatment could worsen the hearing loss and decrease the effectiveness of treatment.
What causes sudden deafness?
Many people experience SSHL at random times throughout the day, recovering some or all of their hearing immediately or over time. Some experience a “pop” sensation in their ears prior to the loss of hearing, while others may become dizzy or experience tinnitus or experience a combination of the three.
Less than one-fifth of individuals diagnosed with SSHL have an identifiable cause. Some of the most common causes include:
• Blood circulation problems
• Infectious diseases
• Neurologic diseases and disorders, such as multiple sclerosis
• Trauma, such as a head injury
• A tumor on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain
• Auto-immune diseases such as Cogan’s syndrome
• Disorders of the inner ear, such as Ménière’s disease.
• Ototoxic drugs (drugs that harm the sensory cells in the inner ear)
How can sudden deafness be treated?
A hearing test called pure tone audiometry is used to diagnose SSHL, which allows the doctor to determine the cause of the deafness. Depending on the cause, different tests and actions may be taken. For example, if the hearing loss was caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
The most common treatment for SSHL, however, is corticosteroids, which can be used to treat several different problems, such as inflammation and inner ear disorders. These steroids are usually consumed in pill form, but can also be injected behind the eardrum into the middle ear. Remember to protect your hearing at all times. If you expect to be in a noisy environment, earplugs (see what are earplugs) can be a lifesaver in maintaining healthy hearing at all times.