Sudden deafness, also called sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), is a rapid loss of hearing that occurs either all at once or over a period of several days with no apparent cause. Most commonly, it presents in just one ear. The source of sudden deafness is usually a problem in the sensory organs of the inner ear.
How People Experience Sudden Deafness
Sudden hearing loss affects people in many different ways. For some, they wake up in the morning no longer able to hear in one of their ears. Others notice only when trying to use the affected ear, such as when they are talking on the phone and hold the speaker up to their ear. Many have reported an alarming “popping” sound just before their hearing disappears.
It is not unusual to experience other symptoms along with sudden deafness, including a feeling of fullness in the ear, dizziness or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Is Sudden Deafness Common?
While the condition can affect people of any age, sudden deafness usually occurs in adults in their late 40s to early 50s. It is estimated that one to six out of every 5,000 people experience sudden deafness per year. However, it’s possible that this number is much higher because sudden deafness is often undiagnosed.
Why Is Sudden Deafness Underdiagnosed?
Many people who experience sudden deafness put off seeing a doctor because they think the loss is due to allergies, a sinus infection, earwax impaction or another common condition that resolves on its own. However, sudden deafness is a medical emergency and should be treated as such. If you experience sudden deafness, visit a doctor as soon as possible.
While about half of people who experience sudden deafness recover at least some of their hearing spontaneously within a week or two, delaying diagnosis or treatment can have devastating results. Waiting can decrease treatment efficacy. Receiving prompt treatment is the best way to increase your chance of recovering your hearing.
What Causes Sudden Deafness?
There are many disorders of the ear that can cause sudden deafness, but only about 10% of those diagnosed with sudden deafness have an identifiable cause. Possible causes include:
- Head trauma
- Autoimmune disease
- Drugs for cancer or severe infections
- Poor blood circulation
- Neurological disorders (like multiple sclerosis)
- Disorders of the inner ear (like Meniere’s disease)
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call San Francisco Audiology today.