What is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that occurs over a few days, or even hours, as opposed to years. It’s a rare and alarming condition that generally affects one ear alone.
Here’s everything you need to know about sudden sensorineural hearing loss, its causes, symptoms, and treatments.
What are the symptoms of sudden sensorineural hearing loss?
Unsurprisingly, sudden hearing loss is hard to miss. Many people notice immediately upon waking up that their hearing has been significantly reduced in one ear, or become aware of it as soon as they start talking to another person. In some cases, it’s preceded by a very noticeable ‘pop’.
Tinnitus, dizziness, and a feeling of fullness in the ear can also accompany the immediate loss of hearing.
However, unlike conductive hearing loss, sudden sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t have any visible cause in the outer or middle ear – such as a blockage or infection. Instead, it affects the nerve pathways of the inner ear and the actual transmission of sound to the brain.
What causes sudden sensorineural hearing loss?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss has been linked to medical conditions such as:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Certain anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, or drugs used in chemotherapy
- Circulation problems
- Complications from a head injury
- Diseases that affect the inner ear, such as Meniere’s Disease.
However, the vast majority of sudden hearing loss cases (up to 90% according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) have no known cause. In medical terms, this is known as idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
What are the treatment options for sudden sensorineural hearing loss?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss treatment:
If you experience a rapid loss of hearing, visit your Audiologist as soon as possible. Some sufferers assume the condition will right itself on its own, but SSNHL should be considered a potential medical emergency. It’s strongly recommended that you make an appointment to see an Audiologist the day you notice the hearing loss. In most cases, if the test confirms a sudden sensorineural hearing loss, the Audiologist will send you to your local emergency department for urgent treatment. The sooner appropriate treatment is administered the higher the likelihood the hearing loss will recover.
Different causes will require different treatments, for example:
- Antibiotics for infections
- Oral steroid treatments for autoimmune conditions. This has also been proven effective in cases where there is no known cause for the hearing loss.
- Surgery, if the hearing loss is linked to a traumatic injury.
If sudden hearing loss occurs in both ears, an MRI might also be required to rule out the possibility of a tumour interfering with the auditory nerve.
Infections generally require antibiotics, while steroid treatments are often used for autoimmune conditions. If the hearing loss is linked to an injury, surgery may be required.
Note: if you believe your symptoms are a side effect of medication, speak to your doctor before you decide to discontinue any prescriptions.
Can sudden sensorineural hearing loss be reversed?
Between one and two-thirds of sudden hearing loss cases recover within two weeks, provided the right treatment is sought without delay.
However, in some cases, sudden sensorineural hearing loss may be permanent, especially if it’s linked to physical damage in the inner ear or auditory nerve. In these cases, a professionally fitted hearing aid may be the best option for reclaiming your hearing ability. Chat to a qualified Audiologist about your options.