Hearing loss usually progresses gradually, often going unnoticed for many years before it becomes obvious. Occasionally, however, hearing loss can occur in an instant, or over the course of a few short weeks. This is known as sudden hearing loss, and it can be very distressing for those it affects.
Sudden hearing loss may be temporary and hearing may be restored to normal eventually, or it could be permanent. It may affect one ear or both ears.
If you experience sudden hearing loss, it is important to seek urgent medical help.
What causes sudden hearing loss?
Possible causes of sudden hearing loss include:
A significant build up of ear wax in the ear canal can cause hearing to degenerate suddenly. Even if wax has been building up for some time, you will only experience hearing loss at the point when the wax blocks your ear canal completely. Do not try and use cotton buds to remove wax – this will make it worse by pushing the wax further inside your ear. Your GP will be able to remove it properly.
It is possible to develop infections in different parts of your ear, causing different symptoms. Infections that cause inflammation in the middle or outer ear are quite common, and can cause hearing loss that is usually temporary. These infections are generally very treatable.
Inner ear infections can also cause hearing loss, but these are generally more serious. Meningitis, measles or mumps can sometimes affect the inner ear and cause sudden permanent hearing loss. It is important to be immunised against these infections.
Head injuries, loud blasts and sudden large changes in air pressure can directly affect the delicate structures of the middle ear and the inner ear, causing sudden hearing loss. Depending on the extent of damage to the ear, hearing loss can be permanent or temporary after trauma.
4. Ototoxic drugs.
These are drugs that may cause damage to the inner ear, resulting in sudden hearing loss. When large doses of drugs are needed – for example, to treat cancer – the risk of hearing loss increases. Depending on the type of drug, the dosage and how the drug is taken, the hearing loss can be permanent or temporary. When a doctor prescribes you ototoxic drugs, they should discuss with you how it might affect your hearing.
5. Meniere’s disease.
Symptoms of Meniere’s dieases include tinnitus, low-tone hearing loss and bouts of dizziness. Sudden hearing loss may be short term, but can reoccur when symptoms return intermittently. Read more about Meniere’s disease here.
What to do if you experience sudden hearing loss
If you think you have sudden hearing loss in one or both ears, see your GP immediately. You should ask your GP for an urgent referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
If you can’t see your GP for some reason and your sudden hearing loss is severe, you should visit your nearest emergency department. It is likely that the hospital will have an ENT specialist who will carry out detailed tests to determine the type of hearing loss you have, as well as it’s severity.
Coping with sudden hearing loss
Losing your hearing suddenly can be very traumatic. All of a sudden your experience of the world is altered and it is not uncommon to feel bewildered and scared.
If your hearing does not return, it is important to come to terms with the drastic change. You will need help from specialists, friends, family, work colleagues and perhaps support groups of people who have gone through similar experiences. It’s common to feel angry and isolated at first, but if you’re not open with people you will end up feeling even more isolated.
One of the best ways to cope with sudden permanent hearing loss is to be fitted with hearing aids. These will make life a little easier as you learn to live with hearing loss. Connect Hearing offers a range of hearing aids to suit every lifestyle – you can view options here.