What Is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), or sudden deafness as it is also referred to, is an unexplained, sudden loss of hearing. This can happen all at once or the deteriaition can take place over a few days. it is very common for people affected by SSHL to discover their hearing loss when they wake up in the morning or when they try and use the affected ear i.e. when trying to use earphones. While in the majority of cases the hearing seemingly disappears with no sort of alert, some people have reported hearing a loud popping noise just before their hearing disappeared. Other symptoms can include dizziness, ringing of the ears and also a feeling of ear fullness.

If you think you have been affected by SSHL you should treat this very seriously and get it checked out immediately. Although around 50% of people with sudden sensorineural hearing loss regain some or all of their hearing within a week or two from the problem arising, delaying getting a diagnosis and treatment can put your hearing at risk.

It is thought that SSHL affects around 1-6 people in every 5,000 annually although this number could be larger due to the condition going undiagnosed.  Although SSHL can happen to anyone at any age the majority of cases are recorded from adults in their 40s and 50s.

What Are The Causes Of SSHL?

Some of the following can bring on SSHL:

  • Infections
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Blood Circulation Issues
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Head Injuries
  • Certain Medication (i.e. cancer drugs and those used to fight infections)
  • Disorders Of The Inner Ear (i.e. Ménière’s disease)
How Your Audiologist Can Diagnose SSHL

One of the first things your audiologist will do if you have experienced SSHL is to rule out conductive hearing loss i.e. blockage or damage to either the outer or middle part of your ear. Common reasons for conductive hearing loss include blockage of the ear canal from wax or a foreign object, a hole in the eardrum, problems with 3 small bones in your ear or fluid in the space between the eardrum and cochlea.

If there is no obvious reason found then a pure tone audiometry test will most likely be performed. The pure tone audiometry test measures how loud different sounds/pitches/frequencies have to be before you can hear them. Usually, one sign of SSHL could be a loss of around 30 decibels in 3 connected frequencies within consecutive 3 days.

If your audiologist can not find a cause then you may need to book an appointment with your doctor who may take blood tests, use imaging equipment such as an MRI or perform balance tests.

Treating SSHL

As seen above, SSHL can have many different causes so treatment would depend on the cause of the condition. A common treatment for SSHL, especially if the cause is unknown, is the use of steroids. Steroids can treat many disorders and usually work by reducing inflammation, decreasing swelling, and helping the body fight illness.

If the hearing loss is severe or if you do not respond to treatment then your doctor/audiologist will recommend hearing aids. Hearing aids are a great way for someone suffering from hearing loss to regain their ability to hear clearly again.