Treating Sudden Hearing Loss

Treating Sudden Hearing Loss

Rarely anyone expects for their hearing to just disappear, but it happens! A sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) is a hearing loss that can occur over a few hours or days. No one knows exactly what causes SSHL, though it may be attributed to virus, disease or even a buildup of earwax. If you experience a SSHL we can help you know what to do and what may be causing it in the first place.

What is SSHL?

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when damage occurs to the inner ear. Within the inner ear is the eardrum and tiny bones called ossicles which transmit audio vibrations to the fluid filled, cochlea. This tiny snail shaped organ holds tiny hair like cells called stereocilia. The stereocilia are the sole transport of audio information to the brain and it achieves this by transforming audio vibrations into electrical impulses. Stereocilia are incredibly fragile and can be damaged due to exposure to loud noise, impact to the head, exposure to ototoxic chemicals, or even chronic infection. It’s most common for sensorineural damage to occurs subtly over a lifetime but in the case of SSHL it can happen quickly within hours or minuets.

Experts estimate that SSHL strikes between one and six people per 5,000 every year, however it’s likely that the actual number of new SSHL cases annually could be much higher due to the fact that SSHL often goes undiagnosed. While SSHL can happen to people at any age, it most often affects adults in their late 40s and early 50s. In almost all cases it’s occurs unilaterally meaning it only affects one ear, though it can also occur in both ears (binaurally). On its onset it may come on as a ‘pop” in the ears and commonly comes with a ringing in the ears, technically called tinnitus and in some cases vertigo as well.

Causes of SSHL

There are several causes of SSHL. Here are just a few:

Earwax: Sometimes SSHL can occur due to a buildup of earwax. Many give little thought to their earwax, though it plays an important role in our hearing health. Earwax, also known as cerumen acts as an antimicrobial element, preventing infection in the inner ear and helping to more dirt and debris out of the ear. As we age our earwax often changes becoming harder and more prone to build up. A build up can cause sudden hearing loss by blocking the ear canal. The good news is this is rarely a permanent condition and hearing can be restored when the blockage is cleared by a medical professional.

Viral infections: SSHL is often caused by upper respiratory infection within a month before the hearing loss. Viruses associated with sudden hearing loss include mumps, measles, rubella, as well as meningitis, syphilis and AIDS,.

Tumors: Abnormal growths and tumors can interrupt hearing suddenly causing SSHL.

Head trauma: When you receive a hard blow to the head, the structures of your inner ear may be affected damaging the stereocilia, ossicles or eardrum.

Medications and Chemicals: There are at least 450 prescription and over the counter drugs which can cause damage to the inner ear. In addition to medications many environmental toxins and workplace chemical may also damage the ear enough to damage hearing nearly instantaneously in high concentrations.

Can you recover from a sudden hearing loss?

While sensorineural hearing loss is most often irreversible SSHL in some instances can be reversed. If you experience a sudden loss of hearing the important thing to do is contact a medical professional immediately. The longer you wait, the more at risk you are from suffering from permanent loss.

In most cases the recovery time for sudden hearing loss is usually within the first two weeks. If you experience vertigo and dizziness with your hearing loss then the chances of full recovery are much smaller as the vestibular system is also affected. People who experience a sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) may be treated with steroids to jumpstart healing in the inner ear. While the specific action of the steroids in helping with hearing is uncertain, it’s believed that they may aid in reduction of inflammation and swelling within the inner ear.

What should I do if I experience a sudden hearing loss?

If you experience a sudden hearing loss in one or both ears, be sure to contact a doctor immediately. We can test your hearing and help you find the best treatment to help with your hearing.