Sudden Hearing Loss

Most forms of hearing loss occur gradually over months to years. But, in about five to 20 out of every 100,000 people, a neurological hearing loss can occur within hours or days.

Sudden hearing loss is most common in people 40 to 60 years old, but can occur at any age.

Seek Specialty Care Immediately

Many people delay seeking specialty care for sudden hearing loss because the problem is believed to be something else – ear wax build up, an ear or sinus infection, or the result of allergies or other illnesses.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a medical emergency. An immediate evaluation by an ear specialist is crucial because early intervention can improve the chance of recovery.

Other Symptoms with Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden hearing loss almost always happens in just one ear, and is often noticed first thing in the morning upon awakening.

Other symptoms may include:

  • A sensation of fullness or pressure in the ear
  • Tinnitus – ringing or other noise in the ear
  • Speech and sound distortion
  • Dizziness or vertigo

Diagnosing the Cause of Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden hearing loss is usually idiopathic – with no know cause.

In about 5 percent to 10 percent of causes, laboratory tests, MRI, or diagnosis of co-existing conditions can determine a cause. In some cases, an MRI will reveal a small benign tumor, called an acoustic neuroma, on the balance nerve.

In confirming sudden hearing loss, other possible conditions are eliminated. A trained audiologist performs a hearing test in a sound-proof booth to confirm that the hearing loss is neurological.

Treating Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

A high dose of oral steroids is often the first step in treatment.

Transtympanic steroid therapy is available for people with conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a history of psychiatric disorders who should not take oral steroids. It is also used when oral steroids are not effective as a first round of treatment.

Transtympanic steroid therapy involves injecting steroids through the ear drum and directly to the inner ear. This therapy improves hearing in up to 25 percent of patients who do not respond as well to oral steroids.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is available at Virginia Mason. Recent research suggests that it may benefit some patients with Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves performing between 10 to 20 “dives” in the hyperbaric chamber to improve the levels of oxygen in the inner ear, which may help restore hearing in some patients. Your ear specialist will determine if you are a candidate for this treatment.