Treatments for Sudden Hearing Loss

By Elizabeth Brassine, Au.D.

Imagine you woke up one morning and couldn’t hear out of one ear. Would you know what to do or seek treatment? Unfortunately, for most people the answer to both of these questions is no.

Every year, one out of every 5,000 adults experiences sudden onset hearing loss. Also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or SSHL. For most people, the immediate assumption is that they are suffering from an earwax blockage, so they might decide not to seek treatment. But here’s what you need to know: Sudden onset hearing loss is considered a medical emergency, and prompt treatment might just save your hearing.

But how do you know you have it? SSHL doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way. Some people notice when they wake up first thing in the morning that their hearing is different. Others don’t notice a difference until they hold the phone up to that particular ear. In some cases SSHL is preceded by a very noticeable pop, which can be quite alarming. Afterward, some patients report a feeling of fullness in the affected ear, possibly accompanied by tinnitus and dizziness.

SSHL differs from other types of hearing loss in a couple of important ways. Aside from its rapid onset, it is often idiopathic, meaning the cause is usually unknown. As a matter of fact, a cause can be identified in only 10 to 15% of diagnosed cases. One of the most common theories, however, is that SSHL is caused by a viral infection of the hearing nerve.

Nine out of 10 occurrences of SSHL are unilateral, meaning the hearing loss only occurs in one ear. Men and women are affected equally, and the average age of first occurrence is typically mid-40s to mid-50s.

Although treatments for SSHL are still fairly limited, they are important. Corticosteroids are the most common treatment for SSHL. They work by helping the body fight illness, decreasing swelling and reducing inflammation. It is vital to seek treatment as soon as possible, as seeking treatment from a hearing professional immediately could make all the difference in helping you recover some of your hearing.

Elizabeth Brassine is a Doctor of Audiology and the owner of Hearing Services of McKinney.