Hearing Blog

Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden Hearing Loss

Imagine yourself waking up one morning. You get up, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and start your day like any other. Everything seems normal. That is until you quickly start to notice that you’re not hearing as well out of one ear. This isn’t that slow, gradual change with age that you’ve been warned about by friends and family. The change in your hearing was practically instantaneous. Maybe you hear a popping sound beforehand or some ringing in your ear. Maybe you feel like the room is spinning. You immediately rationalize with yourself that it’s nothing, probably just wax. Perhaps, you even tell yourself that it will improve on its own. Weeks go by, and you still can’t hear. Finally, after months, you decide enough is enough. It’s time to get the wax out. Your doctor takes a look in your ear and gives you a puzzled look. Your ear is clear, and you’re left feeling totally confused.

While this story sounds like some bizarre case from The Twilight Zone, it happens to people like you and me without warning. This occurrence is known as a sudden hearing loss. Sudden hearing losses occur in roughly one out of every 5000 people. It is a significant drop in hearing that takes place quickly. It may be an instant drop or a significant drop that occurs within up to a three day span, and its effects may be permanent. The drop in hearing may be accompanied by dizziness or vertigo, ringing in the ear (known as tinnitus), or feelings of fullness in the ear. It is sometimes believed to be a viral attack on the hearing nerve, but often times the cause remains a mystery. As of today, there have not been any proven methods of prevention. While we may not be able to prevent this situation from happening, there is hope for those who do experience it, but time is of the essence.

If you or anyone you know experiences a sudden drop in hearing, call an ENT immediately. For some, there is a possibility of improvement. After a hearing test to help confirm the drop in hearing, your ENT may recommend oral steroids, steroid injections into the middle ear, or possibly both. Between 30-60% of individuals with a sudden hearing loss may see some degree of improvement. There is even a chance of total recovery, but the window of opportunity is small. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee for any improvement, but the best outcomes typically occur when an individual is seen within 24-48 hours of the drop in hearing. After the first three weeks, the chance of recovery quickly disappears. It absolutely cannot be stressed enough how important it is to be seen as quickly as possible.

A sudden hearing loss is no laughing matter. It is a medical emergency and should be treated as such. For those who experience this type of drop in hearing, it can be an emotional rollercoaster. While it’s tempting to think that it’s just wax or something that will go away on its own, there is no way to be sure unless you are examined by a professional. If you or someone you know experiences a quick drop in hearing, please think twice before brushing it off. Call an ENT immediately.