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The Shock of Sudden Hearing Loss

Most cases of hearing loss in adults occur so slowly that the person doesn’t notice the change in hearing. The change can develop for ten or more years before it’s detected—and usually family and friends notice the hearing problems first.

But hearing loss can also occur quickly, literally overnight, or in the space of a few days. The change in hearing is dramatic and very upsetting.

A sudden hearing loss can be caused by a build-up of ear wax or by ear pressure following an airplane flight. However, the term “sudden hearing loss” usually refers to a sensorineural loss. The loss is almost always in one ear (uni-lateral), and is often accompanied by dizziness or tinnitus (ear noises). Sudden hearing loss is rare, occurring at a rate of about one case in 10,000 people each year.

Causes and treatments

Suspected causes include viral infection, certain medications, ear trauma, meningitis, viral infection or a blockage in blood supply. In most cases, the specific cause is never found. There may be a recent flue or cold, but in most cases there are no other complaints (except perhaps dizziness, tinnitus or a sense of “fullness” in the ear).

Partial or complete recovery occurs in about 65% of the cases. Recovery can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. Those who seek medical attention within a week or so have a higher recovery rate than those who wait. The recovery rate is also higher for those with milder hearing loss.

Someone who experiences sudden hearing loss should seek medical attention as soon as possible so that immediate treatment can be provided. The medical evaluation usually includes a thorough history and physical, otologic and audiologic examinations. Follow-up care should include periodic audiologic examinations to monitor hearing levels, counsel patients and their families, and consider audiologic rehabilitation steps.

From our Hearing Health Care News

A newsletter for our patients, their families and friends

Summer 2016