Sudden Hearing Loss (SSHL): Causes & Symptoms 

What is SSHL and what does it stand for?

Known as sudden deafness, sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) can be an overwhelming experience. The most obvious SSHL symptoms include losing your hearing at short notice, usually in one ear, either instantly or over a number of days. Sound will become muffled or faint and it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. The quicker the diagnosis the better your chances of having a full recovery, with many recovering within two weeks. It’s reported that one in every 5,000 adults experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss, but it has been known that some cases haven’t been recorded. Both men and women can be affected by this, with the average age of first occurrence being between the ages of 30 to 60 with differing experiences. Some assume that it is caused by an allergy, whilst others think it is a sinus infection or earwax blockage. Sudden hearing loss should be taken seriously and medical assistance should be your first port of call.

What causes sudden deafness?

The frustrating feedback about SSHL is that the cause is usually unknown and has only been truly identified in 10 to 15% of diagnosed cases. The feeling of suddenly losing your hearing is a worrying experience to go through and can put an individual out of sorts. There are a range of known factors which can put someone at risk of sudden hearing loss. This includes:
  • Autoimmune inner ear disorder
  • Bacterial infection
  • Circulation issues
  • Head injury
  • Inner ear disorders
  • Low thyroid hormones
  • Migraines
  • Neurological disease and disorders
  • Viral infections

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The first symptom is losing your hearing in just one ear. This affects nine out of ten people who have experienced sudden sensorineural hearing loss. It can occur as soon as you wake up, or you may become more aware when on the phone or using headphones. Other symptoms include a loud popping sound, dizziness, issues with your balance, difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds or tinnitus. When in an office or outdoor environment you may find it difficult to follow group conversations, the sound of people talking is muffled, or that you find it challenging to hear well when there is a lot of background noise.

When you should be concerned about your child

Although SSHL is usually diagnosed to those over 30, infections at birth or damage caused by ototoxic medications can also affect a child’s hearing and lead to hearing loss. It can be challenging to find out if your child is able to hear to their full potential and there are a number of ways to spot the signs of hearing loss. This includes having numerous ear infections or problems with their balance, not attempting to form words or being able to understand language. They may also not be startled at sudden noises or react to sounds in a usual way.

What to do if you’re suddenly deaf in one ear

As mentioned previously, SSHL is a serious matter and is a medal emergency. Therefore, you need to seek assistance from a professional doctor as soon as possible to help with a prompt recovery, which usually sees an improvement after two weeks.

What causes sudden hearing loss in one ear?

There are a wide variety of causes to sudden hearing loss which happens when the inner ear, the cochlea in the inner ear, or the nerve pathways between the brain and the ear become damaged. With more than 100 causes which have been identified by medical professionals, the most common ones include:
  • Abnormal tissue growth or tutors
  • Ageing
  • An immune system disease such as Cogan syndrome
  • Blog circulation problems
  • Blood vessel disease
  • Head injury or trauma
  • Lyme disease
  • Malformation of the inner ear
  • Meniere disease which affects the inner ear
  • Neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis
  • Ototoxic medication which can harm the ear
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise

Can viruses or diseases cause loss of hearing?

The notion of hearing loss being caused by a virus has been investigated by researchers who do believe that even a mild infection may be part of the diagnosis. This is usually identified when individuals report a cold or respiratory in the days or weeks leading up to losing their hearing. The reason why this happens is because inflammation can damage the inner ears’ hair cells and blood supply, and some didn’t even notice that they were ill until they experienced hearing loss. There are other more serious viruses such as measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox which can contribute to hearing loss, but due to their more obvious symptoms these cases are much easier to spot and treat earlier.

Testing for sudden hearing loss

If the signs are there that you may have sudden sensorineural hearing loss, it’s important to book an appointment with a qualified hearing healthcare professional. During the appointment, a pure tone audiometry may be carried out to measure the hearing loss and determine the range of hearing loss in decibels. SSHL is diagnosed when hearing loss of at least 30 decibels in three connected frequencies is recorded. Once this has been carried out, more further examinations such as blood tests, MRI scans and balance tests may be requested to determine any underlying causes. Never settle if you feel that the results you’re given don’t feel right and request a second opinion if necessary.

Testing your child’s hearing

Despite hearing problems being rare during childhood, routine tests are provided to newborn babies and children to determine if any problems have occurred during their early development. They can also identify if a child’s hearing has deteriorated and there are a number of different methods carried out for the examination depending on their age and symptoms.

Treatment for sudden hearing loss: Can your hearing come back?

The biggest question following diagnosis of SSHL is whether or not an individual’s hearing will come back. According to research 85% of people who receive medical attention as soon as they notice the signs of hearing loss will regain some if not all of their hearing. This is certainly positive news for those hoping to recover hearing in the one ear. There is however less chance of recovery among older adults and those who suffer from vertigo. There are a selection of prescriptions which can help suppress any inflammation, including corticosteroids, which can help fight illnesses in pill form or given through an injection behind the eardrum. In the instance where your hearing doesn’t improve from SSHL, hearing aids and telephone amplifiers are a significant help thanks to their sophisticated technology. If you’re concerned about your hearing and looking for professional advice and tests, our qualified and experienced team at Imperial Hearing can assist.