Sudden Hearing Loss

Warning: If you experience sudden hearing loss, you should seek medical attention immediately!

Sudden hearing loss happens more often than you think. According to the National Library of Medicine, sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) affects between 5 to 27 Americans per 100,000 people, which results in 60,000 new cases every year.

While this may not happen to you, it’s important to understand that sudden SNHL is considered an otolaryngologic emergency and is treatable if addressed as such. In fact, studies show that if we treat sudden hearing loss in the first 72 hours of onset, patients are more likely to regain at least some – if not all – of the hearing back. Unfortunately, most people wait too long, thinking it will go away on its own. Immediate action is the key to recovery from sudden sensorineural hearing loss!

sudden hearing loss

What is sudden hearing loss?

The American Hearing Research Foundation defines this phenomenon, also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) or sudden deafness, as “greater than 30-decibel hearing reduction, over at least three contiguous frequencies occurring over a period of 72 hours or less.” The severity and speed of onset varies from person to person. Some may experience sudden deafness in one ear (unilateral sudden hearing loss) or both ears (bilateral sudden hearing loss). Both men and women of any age can experience sudden hearing loss.

People often report the following sudden hearing loss symptoms: dizziness, tinnitus, and a popping sound right before the onset of the hearing loss. In some cases, the person will immediately notice that they cannot hear from one ear. In other cases, until they have a hearing test by an audiologist, they might not fully understand the extent of the damage.

Either way, as soon as you recognize rapid onset hearing loss, treat it as an emergency and seek medical attention with emergency hearing loss treatment. Delaying your diagnosis could decrease the effectiveness of treatment and lead to permanent hearing loss.

What causes a sudden loss of hearing?

Sudden hearing loss causes can be varied and hard to determine. Unfortunately, even after a thorough examination, doctors cannot always determine the cause of this frustrating condition. Common causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:

  • Ménière’s disease
  • Neoplastic issues
  • Head trauma
  • Metabolic issues
  • Neurological issues, such as multiple sclerosis
  • Immunologic issues
  • Side effects of certain ototoxic medications, including those that treat cancer
  • Blood circulation issues
  • Cochlear/inner ear changes
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Bacterial and viral infections

What is the treatment for sudden hearing loss?

While SSNHL is scary to think about and experience, the good news is that it is treatable if addressed immediately. Sudden deafness can be treated in many ways, which largely depends on the cause of the hearing loss.

The most common treatment, especially when the cause is unknown, is corticosteroids. Steroids reduce inflammation, decrease swelling, and help the body fight illness. Corticosteroids can be administered by pill as oral steroids or through the ear, though a clinical trial supported by the NIDCD showed that both methods were equally as effective.

Aside from steroids, if you know the cause of your sudden hearing loss, then more options are available. For example, if your hearing loss is due to a bacterial infection, then you may be prescribed antibiotics. If your hearing loss is severe, hearing aids may be an option to restore some of your hearing.

How can an Audiologist help?

After being seen by your primary care physician, your audiologist can determine the extent of the damage and explore potential causes. Although your doctor may not be able to pinpoint a definite cause, it is necessary for them to rule out medically treatable causes. Using the results of your hearing test and your doctor’s audiology findings, your audiologist can help you find the best treatment options. Working together, nearly half of people recover at least part of their hearing capabilities after sudden hearing loss.

Understanding what to do with hearing loss is what we do best. If you’ve been told by medical professionals that there is nothing you can do about your sudden hearing loss, you need to see us for a second opinion and get audiologist services for sudden hearing loss. We help patients with sudden hearing loss regain their ability to hear background noise, localize where sounds are coming from, and reduce their tinnitus. Call us today to schedule a consultation.


What virus causes sudden hearing loss?

Many viruses cause sudden hearing loss. Rubella, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Measles, Chicken Pox and Shingles (Varicella Zoster Virus), and the Mumps virus can all cause sudden hearing loss. Viruses cause sudden deafness by damaging the inner ear, either directly or through inflammation.

Can covid cause sudden hearing loss?

Reports are limited, and it is too early to say for sure. However, Covid can infect the ear and cause inflammation, which may damage the inner ear enough to cause sudden deafness. This is similar to how other viruses can cause sudden loss of hearing.

Is sudden hearing loss an emergency?

Yes! You should seek immediate medical treatment if you think you are experiencing sudden hearing loss. Partial or full recovery of hearing becomes much easier with prompt treatment. The sooner we can help, the better the outcome.