Each year, between 5 and 30 per 100,000 individuals unexpectantly lose their hearing in a matter of minutes, because of sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). Sadly, immediate medical help is often not sought out, because it is mistaken as temporary blockage, caused by wax or fluid. However, SSNHL is a medical emergency, and it is important to be treated immediately.

What is SSNHL?

SSNHL is a noticeable drop in hearing over a short period of time. It most commonly affects just one ear, although it can affect both ears. It seems to be most common in individuals who are between the ages of 30 and 60. To improve the chances of recovery, early treatment with steroids and/or antiviral medication may be advised where appropriate. If SSNHL occurs, you might notice a pop in the affected ear, after which either the hearing may immediately disappear, or it could slowly decline over a few hours. It may also be accompanied by vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), or a feeling of fullness in the ear.

What shall I do if I lose my hearing suddenly?

SSNHL is a medical emergency and can result in permanent hearing loss. For the best chances of improvement, it is recommended to seek medical advice immediately. An Audiologist can help guide you in the right direction, however an Ear Nose and Throat Physician is able to provide the necessary treatment. Patients should request an emergency audiogram because it can rule out ear wax or other possible causes of hearing loss and can help diagnose SSNHL.  

How is SSNHL treated?

High- dose oral steroids are the most common treatment, although occasionally the patient may need steroid injections directly into the ear. Patients have the best possible outcome if treated within two to three days after the sudden hearing loss occurs. Waiting even just two weeks for medical attention may miss the opportunity for steroids to potentially improve your chance of recovery. You may need follow- up tests and repeated hearing assessments to monitor your progress or recovery.

Collet-Fenson, D. (2019). When Your Hearing Disappears Suddenly. The Hearing Journal, (Volume 72- Number 12), p.18.