What You Need to Know About Sudden Hearing Loss

Imagine for a minute going about your day, picking up the mail, running errands, seeing friends and family, going to work, and then out of the blue losing your hearing. It would be a scary prospect and something that affects people around the world every day.

It’s called Sudden Hearing Loss, and here’s what you need to know about the condition, what can cause it and how to treat it.

What is Sudden Hearing Loss?

According to the American Hearing Research Foundation, sudden hearing loss is considered “greater than 30 dB hearing reduction, over at least three contiguous frequencies, occurring over a period of 72 hours or less.”  It may be a conductive hearing loss (CHL), sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), or mixed hearing loss. It may be sudden and complete or come on more gradually over several days. In many cases, it also comes with a side of tinnitus. It is estimated that 5-20 people in 100,000 are impacted by sudden sensory hearing loss.

There are many causes of sudden hearing loss, including:

  • Physical trauma such as an injury to the head or a blow to the ear
  • Noise exposure, especially excessively loud noise
  • Certain diseases or neurologic conditions
  • Circulatory problems impacting the inner ear

Whatever the cause, experts recommend seeing your physician and a hearing healthcare professional immediately to diagnose and potentially treat the hearing loss and any underlying conditions causing it.

What to Do If You Experience Sudden Hearing Loss

If you find yourself affected by sudden hearing loss, heading straight to your hearing healthcare provider or physician is the most critical first step. From there, you’ll be given a pure tone audiometry test to help identify the type of sudden hearing loss (it could be conductive, sensorineural or mixed). In recent years, the importance of identifying more clearly the type of sudden hearing loss as conductive, sensorineural or more specific variations of these has become a priority for hearing healthcare and other medical providers. This clarification can help to treat patients more effectively and prevent unnecessary tests along the way.

If the cause is a blockage, in some cases, it may be quickly and easily resolved. If it is more, additional tests may be needed to determine the exact cause and best steps for moving forward.

In many cases, seeking immediate help can make all the difference between recovery at least partial hearing and being left with permanent hearing loss.

“Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, particularly when accompanied by tinnitus and dizziness, can cause a great reduction of quality of life,” said Seth R. Schwartz, MD, MPH, who worked on the most recent sudden hearing loss identification and treatment guideline update. “Patients may experience fear and frustration at the inability to identify a cause for their hearing loss. The impact of this condition on a patient’s function and well-being underlies the importance of an updated guideline to optimize care of patients with this debilitating condition.”

Whether you’re experiencing sudden hearing loss or have started noticing a gradual hearing loss, it’s essential to work with an experienced practitioner who can help identify the cause and guide you in managing any long term hearing loss. Care for your hearing with regular hearing evaluations, treatment of hearing loss and a healthy lifestyle to help minimize your risk of gradual and sudden hearing loss.


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