Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden hearing loss most often occurs within a one to three day period. Often, sudden onset hearing loss is first noticed when waking in the morning when an individual goes to use one ear such as for answering a phone. Rarely does sudden loss occur abruptly. Generally, it occurs over a brief period. Sudden hearing loss is diagnosed as anything greater than a 30-decibel reduction in hearing that takes place within a span of seventy-two hours or less. Thirty to sixty percent of those who experience sudden loss in hearing also report dizziness, ringing in their ear or both. Sudden hearing loss may resolve with or without treatment, or be permanent. Prompt examination and identification as to what type of hearing loss has occurred will determine treatment. Always treat any sudden change in hearing as an emergency and have your hearing tested as well as a physical exam by an ear specialist.

Much of the time sudden hearing loss causes are idiopathic, meaning there is no known hearing loss causes identified. Some experts believe that up to sixty-percent of sudden sensorineural hearing loss is due to a viral disease or infection. Other specialists believe sudden sensorineural hearing loss to be vascular in nature when other cause are not determined. It is difficult to determine most hearing loss causes for sudden sensorineural hearing loss.When sudden conductive hearing loss is diagnosed, it is easier to contribute the loss to causes such as infection, fluid buildup within the ear, obstruction due to excessive earwax, or other damage to the outer or middle ear structure. There are over one hundred identified causes of sudden deafness but positively identifying an individual cause for loss of hearing is successful in only about fifteen percent of cases. Sudden conductive hearing loss often is temporary and responds well to early treatment interventions. Conductive hearing loss and sensorineural loss can leave a person permanently deaf if not diagnosed and treated within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Deaf individuals often have residual hearing and should also report any sudden changes in hearing to their physicians. Hearing aids may help deaf individuals identify sounds or words and adjustments in their treatment may be indicated if further hearing loss occurs suddenly.

Individuals experiencing hearing loss that occurs suddenly should seek immediate diagnosis and treatment. While it is hard to determine a cause for most sudden onset hearing loss, when a cause can be identified, early treatment may mean the difference between a temporary loss of hearing or permanent deafness. Treatment depends on the type of loss identified. Any suspected cause for a sudden change in hearing will determine the individual prognosis. Antibiotics, steroids, dietary changes, or medication changes are all possible interventions to treat sudden loss of hearing.

Steroid therapy and carbogen inhalation therapy are two treatments for sudden loss of hearing that is undergoing continued research. Steroid treatment does not help all individuals with a sudden loss of hearing. However, it is sometimes effective when loss of hearing is suspected to be caused by inflammation or an autoimmune disease that may be contributing to hearing loss. Carbogen inhalation research is still in early stages. This involves the use of a combination of carbon dioxide and oxygen that is believed to increase blood flow within the ear. Carbogen therapy may be effective for some individuals and is likely to be recommended if vascular problems are suspected to be hindering oxygen supply to the inner ear and ear nerves. Ongoing research is needed to determine long-term effectiveness of these and other treatments.

With more than twenty-eight million individuals in the US experiencing some decreased hearing, how can you help lower your risk of losing your hearing in the future? The best way to protect your hearing is through prevention. Limit excessive noise as much as possible. Any sounds higher than eighty decibels are harmful to your hearing. This includes chainsaws, snowmobiles, rock concerts, and various industrial centers. Do not listen to excessively loud music with headphones for extended periods. Follow a nutritious diet rich in Omega-3, vitamin D, foliates, antioxidants, and magnesium. Zinc, Vitamin C, and glutathione are also important to support hearing health. Obtain regular hearing tests and ear exams to detect changes and obtain treatment for any changes as early as possible.