Understanding Sudden Hearing Loss

Dr. David DeKriek
Understanding Sudden Hearing Loss

Most of us think of hearing loss as a product of aging or perhaps because of exposure to a loud jarring sound like an explosion. Sudden hearing loss is just that – hearing loss that occurs suddenly or just within a few hours. The first step to understanding any type of hearing loss, and getting treatment, is getting a hearing evaluation at Fidelity Hearing Center.

What really is sudden hearing loss and how do I know if I have it?

Sudden hearing loss is just as it sounds – a rapid decrease in hearing ability over the course of a few minutes, hours or days. In 90% of cases, people with sudden hearing loss experience symptoms in only one ear. Many people notice the hearing loss when they first wake up in the morning or when hearing is needed specifically in the deafened ear, such as when one goes to use the phone. Some sufferers will hear a loud popping sound before the hearing starts to deteriorate, others will experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or dizziness. Obviously, decreased hearing is a major symptom as well! For a hearing loss to be considered SSHL, the person should experience a drop of 30 decibels, which would cause a normal conversation to sound more like a whisper.

What do I do if I think I have sudden hearing loss?

If you experience some of the symptoms of sudden hearing loss, they should be treated as a medical emergency. It is recommended that anyone experiencing these symptoms visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Your doctor will then use a test called a pure tone audiometry, which will help to determine whether the hearing loss is sensorineural or simply a physical blockage such as earwax buildup.

Many people who experience sudden hearing loss put off seeing the doctor and equate their loss of hearing to allergies or a common cold. This type is thinking can be very dangerous because with sudden hearing loss, every hour truly counts. The sooner treatment is sought, the better your chances of a full recovery.

What causes sudden hearing loss?

The medical world is still searching for the cause of sudden hearing loss. They have determined this phenomenon can occur very suddenly or in a very short time span, and the loss can range from mild to severe. With some cases of sudden hearing loss, hearing may return again, but sometimes sudden hearing loss becomes a permanent condition.

Although the exact cause of sudden hearing loss is still under study, doctors have determined that circulation in the inner ear is reduced when hearing loss, either over time or suddenly, occurs.
One theory on sudden hearing loss is that it is caused by stress. Stress has been found to lead to circulation disorders. Other possible causes include: viral infections, arteriosclerosis and related circulatory disorders, metabolic issues such as diabetes or high cholesterol, ruptured ear drums, spine injuries, blood clots, a drastic decrease in blood flow to the inner ear, autoimmune diseases and chronic middle ear infections.

Types of sudden hearing loss

Sudden idiopathic hearing loss: Idiopathic means “unknown or without recognizable cause.” This is the most common and sudden type of hearing loss. Examinations and evaluations can not figure out the cause of the hearing loss.

Stress-related sudden hearing loss: Stress has been noted as a frequent trigger for sudden hearing loss. You need to reduce your stress levels when coping with demanding situations. Regular exercise, even a brisk walk around the block, is helpful in eliminating stress and boosting your circulation.

Symptoms of Sudden Hearing Loss

Increased ear pressure and a ringing in the ears are often the first signs of hearing loss. Your ears may feel heavy and full. Symptoms happen immediately or over a period of a couple of days and usually occur in one ear. The discomfort can disappear, but in the worst cases, permanent hearing loss is possible.

A simple earache is not a common precursor to sudden hearing loss. Pain in just one ear may have different causes and may mean you have an infection in one ear. However, if the sound in one ear seems muffled and you are also experiencing balance issues, it may be the start of sudden hearing loss.
The most common things to be aware of are: hearing loss in one ear with no discernible cause, no earache accompanying that hearing loss and – its only in one ear. This may be accompanied by  balance issues or dizziness and loss of feeling in the outer ear as well as pressure in the ear and a ringing in the ear.

Diagnosing sudden hearing loss

Determining if sudden hearing loss is the issue requires a process of elimination. Tests are performed to determine if there is an infection, an obstruction, or an injury to the ear. Hearing tests can determine how much of a hearing loss there is and if it is in the inner or middle ear. Sudden hearing loss will be classified as high, mid or low frequency range.

Sudden hearing loss treatment

You should have your hearing tested at Fidelity Hearing Center as quickly as possible if you suspect you are suffering from or beginning to experience sudden hearing loss. It is also important to visit a primary care provider if you experience a sudden hearing loss. If the sudden hearing loss occurred more than a year ago and you are still experiencing hearing loss, it is likely hearing devices will be needed to treat the condition.

Sometimes stimulating the circulation in the inner ear is helpful. Blood supplies the inner ear with nutrients and if there has been a reduction in the circulation, sensory hair cells in the ear may have been compromised. There are medications which can improve the blood flow.

Advice from a patient who’s “been there”

David Alboukrek is a nature lover who enjoys the softer sounds of the outdoors. One day, he woke up unable to hear out of his left ear. He recalls decreased hearing ability and ringing and muffled sounds in his ear. Although David was not sure what was going on, he wisely went to visit a hearing specialist, Dr. Widick, when his hearing did not return. Based on the results of his audiogram, David was treated with steroids and did not suffer a permanent hearing loss. He warns others not to wait to get help if they lose their hearing suddenly. David equates his recovery with the fact that he sought treatment very early on. To read more about David’s story, click here.

How is sudden hearing loss treated?

At present, sudden hearing loss is most often treated with steroids, such as in David Alboukrek’s case, although new and exciting studies are underway. Currently, Dr. Widick and his team are part of an FDA-approved trial that tests a new drug’s ability to stop the damage of and save hearing, although time cannot be wasted. There is only a 72-hours window from the time a patient first experiences symptoms of hearing loss to the time they can receive the drug treatment.

The new medication is called AM-111 and is a gel that is injected into the eardrum in an attempt to protect hearing cells and nerves. If you are interested in learning more about this drug trial happening right now, visit here.

How Fidelity Hearing Center can help

Regular hearing tests at Fidelity Hearing Center are important for establishing a baseline for your hearing. If you suspect you are experiencing sudden hearing loss, a test at Fidelity will compare your hearing at the present time to your hearing when you were last tested. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Whether you have noticed changes in your hearing suddenly or they seem to have happened over time, it is important to reach out to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. If you happen to live in or near Cerritos, CA, our friendly Fidelity Hearing Center team looks forward to working with you. Reach out to us today to schedule your comprehensive hearing exam and discuss your needs and concerns with our knowledgeable specialists.


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