Sudden hearing loss – aka Sudden Sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) is a medical emergency. It’s sudden deafness that occurs rapidly – sometimes all at once, or over 2-3 days. In 90% of cases of SSHL, the hearing affects just one ear. It’s more common if you’re in your 40s or 50s.
Patients will often describe waking up feeling deaf in one ear or hearing a loud pop or noise and then their hearing on that side is gone. Sometimes it can be accompanied by ringing in the ears or feeling dizzy.
What causes sudden hearing loss?
There can be many causes of sudden deafness, such as blast trauma and pressure trauma from diving, drugs which ‘ototoxic’ and neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis. But in SSHL, most cases occur without an obvious reason, and it’s thought that it may be because of a viral infection.
Why is sudden hearing loss a medical emergency?
When you suddenly lose hearing in an ear, there is a small window of time in which to take action – ideally within the first 72 hours. Although around a half of patients will recover their spontaneously, half don’t. If the hearing hasn’t returned after 2-3 weeks, the deafness is likely to be permanent.
How can we help if you suspect you have lost your hearing?
Please come to see us immediately, if you have sudden hearing loss. Don’t assume it’s down to a build-up of wax, or ‘being bunged up’.
Because sudden deafness is thankfully rare, many GPs may not necessarily appreciate that urgent action is required. We would encourage you to promptly get in touch with us, even if you have been given advice by your GP.
We can assess you by examining your ears and carrying out hearing tests to look for a true loss of hearing in either ear. If you’re been seen by us before, we can also compare your past results with current test results.
If we discover a true hearing loss, we can assist you in getting urgent care with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
How is sudden hearing loss treated?
If you have sudden deafness, we will help you get the help you need with an ENT surgeon. He or she may want to carry out some urgent tests, such as blood tests, or even an MRI scan.
You may be advised to undergo corticosteroid treatment to try to assist in the recovery of your hearing. This is an ‘intratympanic’ injection (into the inner ear via the eardrum), or you may be advised to take a course of oral steroid medication.
Please get in touch with us urgently, if you have sudden hearing loss. Early action is vital.