Sudden Hearing Loss

Find that you’re sud­den­ly hav­ing trou­ble hear­ing? Sud­den Sen­sorineur­al Hear­ing Loss (SSHL), also known as sud­den deaf­ness, is rapid hear­ing loss that occurs all at once or over a peri­od of three days.

A doc­tor can deter­mine whether a per­son has expe­ri­enced SSHL by con­duct­ing a nor­mal hear­ing test. If a loss of at least 30 deci­bels in three con­nect­ed fre­quen­cies is dis­cov­ered, it is diag­nosed as SSHL. A deci­bel is a mea­sure of sound. A deci­bel lev­el of 30 is half as loud as a nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion. A fre­quen­cy is anoth­er way of mea­sur­ing sound. Fre­quen­cies mea­sure sound waves and help to deter­mine what makes one sound dif­fer­ent from anoth­er sound.

Hear­ing loss affects only one ear in 9 out of 10 peo­ple who expe­ri­ence SSHL. Many peo­ple notice it when they wake up in the morn­ing. Oth­ers first notice it when they try to use the deaf­ened ear, such as when they make a phone call. Still oth­ers notice a loud, alarm­ing pop” just before their hear­ing dis­ap­pears. Peo­ple with SSHL often expe­ri­ence dizzi­ness or a ring­ing in their ears (tin­ni­tus), or both.

Some patients recov­er com­plete­ly with­out med­ical inter­ven­tion, often with­in the first 3 days. This is called a spon­ta­neous recov­ery. Oth­ers get bet­ter slow­ly over a one or two week peri­od. Although a good to excel­lent recov­ery is like­ly, 15 per­cent of those with SSHL expe­ri­ence a hear­ing loss that gets worse over time.

Approx­i­mate­ly 4,000 new cas­es of SSHL occur each year in the Unit­ed States. It can affect any­one, but for unknown rea­sons it hap­pens most often to peo­ple between the ages of 30 and 60.


Though there are more than 100 pos­si­ble caus­es of sud­den deaf­ness, it is rare for a spe­cif­ic cause to be pre­cise­ly iden­ti­fied. Only 10 to 15 per­cent of patients with SSHL know what caused their loss. Nor­mal­ly, diag­no­sis is based on the patien­t’s med­ical his­to­ry. Pos­si­ble caus­es include the following:

  • Infec­tious diseases.
  • Trau­ma, such as a head injury.
  • Abnor­mal tis­sue growth.
  • Immuno­log­ic dis­eases such as Cogan’s syndrome.
  • Tox­ic caus­es, such as snake bites.
  • Oto­tox­ic drugs (drugs that harm the ear).
  • Cir­cu­la­to­ry problems.
  • Neu­ro­log­ic caus­es such as mul­ti­ple sclerosis.
  • Rela­tion to dis­or­ders such as Ménière’s disease.


Peo­ple who expe­ri­ence SSHL should see a physi­cian imme­di­ate­ly. Doc­tors believe that find­ing med­ical help fast increas­es the chances for recov­ery. Sev­er­al treat­ments are used for SSHL, but researchers are not yet cer­tain which is the best for any one cause. If a spe­cif­ic cause is iden­ti­fied, a doc­tor may pre­scribe antibi­otics for the patient. Or, a doc­tor may advise a patient to stop tak­ing any med­i­cine that can irri­tate or dam­age the ear.

The most com­mon ther­a­py for SSHL, espe­cial­ly in cas­es with an unknown cause, is treat­ment with steroids. Steroids are used to treat many dif­fer­ent dis­or­ders and usu­al­ly work to reduce inflam­ma­tion, decrease swelling, and help the body fight ill­ness. Steroid treat­ment helps some SSHL patients who also have con­di­tions that affect the immune sys­tem, which is the body’s defense against disease.

Anoth­er com­mon method that may help some patients is a diet low in salt. Researchers believe that this method aids peo­ple with SSHL who also have Ménière’s dis­ease, a hear­ing and bal­ance disorder.

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