Sudden sensorineural hearing loss refers to inner ear hearing loss, and can also be referred to as sudden deafness. It’s the unexplained, rapid hearing loss that occurs because there is an issue with the sensory organs of the inner ear, and frequently affects only one ear.
Sudden hearing loss can be scary. Often, hearing loss occurs gradually, but when it occurs spontaneously, it is important to seek advice from an audiologist. It can be tempting to wait out the symptoms, but early diagnosis and treatment helps to remedy the hearing loss. So it’s important to know the signs, and know when to see a doctor.
People who have experienced sudden hearing loss may discover the deafened ear when they wake up in the morning, or may even hear an alarming popping sound right before their hearing fades. Symptoms such as dizziness, ringing in the ears, and even a feeling of ear fullness have been reported, as well.
Studies have shown that sudden sensorineural hearing loss can affect one to six people per 5,000 each year, and it can happen to anyone, though most often adults ranging from 40-50s are affected.
The Causes of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
It’s important to remember that sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a general term that is used to describe the ailment. This means that a variety of ear functioning disorders can be the cause of temporary hearing loss. This includes:
- Trauma to the head
- Ear infections
- Autoimmune diseases
- Blood circulation issues
- Neurological disorders
- Inner ear disorders
- Intake of specific drugs used to treat types of cancer, or severe infections
Oftentimes, these are found to accompany other symptoms to help find the correct diagnosis. While sudden hearing loss frequently occurs with one ear, autoimmune diseases can be found to cause sudden deafness in both ears.
It’s also important to note that frequent exposure to loud noises is detrimental to your hearing health. Even short amounts of time in a noisy workplace, such as a construction site or nightclub, can lead to temporary hearing loss. Similarly, constant exposure to noises such as loud headphones or concerts that are loud enough to cause ringing in your ears can contribute to permanent noise-induced hearing loss.
Be mindful of your sound exposure: sounds exceeding 85 decibels are considered dangerous for your hearing! Most devices that could be connected to with earphones, or can play sounds over speakers, often exceed 100 decibels when on maximum volume. Try and limit your exposure to loud noises, and listen to music and media on lower volumes if you’re able to.
Sometimes, the accumulation of earwax can also be a cause of sudden hearing loss. Earwax, or cerumen, is your body’s way of protecting your ear canal by shielding it from dust and foreign particles, as well as protecting the skin in the ear canal from irritation. However, if earwax becomes impacted or stuck in your canal, it can make it difficult for sound waves to travel through the canal to your eardrum, resulting in temporary hearing loss. If an accumulation of earwax leaves you with temporary hearing loss, consult your healthcare professional, who can easily and painlessly flush or remove the ear wax.
Diagnosis of Sudden Hearing Loss
Your doctor will take your symptoms into account and figure out whether your hearing loss is caused by an obstruction in the ear, leading to conductive hearing loss. This could include things such as fluid or earwax. However, if examination shows this is not the case, a pure tone audiometry test should be performed by your doctor. This helps your doctor to measure how loud sounds, in a range of frequencies, need to be in order for you to hear them.
This test is performed in order to identify sensorineural hearing loss, as being unable to hear sounds at 30 decibels in at least three connected frequencies can be a clear indicator of sensorineural issues. Once sensorineural hearing loss has been diagnosed, often blood tests, balance tests, and other imaging tests such as MRI can be performed to further pinpoint the cause of the hearing loss. This can help to check for cysts, tumors, or other abnormalities in the ear.
Often, steroids are used to alleviate this type of hearing loss, as it reduces inflammation and swelling whilst helping the body fight off infection. Whilst a common form of steroids would be via pill form, there are more and more studies showing that the injection of steroids into the middle ear can be just as effective as oral steroids, helping to avoid the side effects as well. This is because the steroids being injected into the middle ear helps the medication to flow directly into the inner ear, getting to the root of the hearing loss issue quickly. In general, it is advised that steroids are used as soon as possible, as delaying treatment may lower the chances of reversing or reducing permanent hearing loss.
If there is a suspected infection, antibiotics can be prescribed as well. If you have taken medication that affects the ear, you may be prescribed a different medication to alleviate its side effects. If your hearing loss has been found to be suffering from an autoimmune condition, you may be prescribed medication that is used to suppress the immune system.
Sometimes, if the hearing loss does not respond to treatment and you are suffering severe effects, you may need to utilise hearing aids, or receive a cochlear implant in order to restore working hearing. As always, it’s important to refer to your doctor and audiologist for the best pathways forward.
Seek expert advice from The Art of Hearing
If you experience sudden hearing loss, it is essential that you consult your Perth audiologist as soon as possible. At The Art of Hearing, our expert hearing specialists in Perth will be able to assess your level of hearing, help determine the cause, and offer treatment for your temporary hearing loss. Similarly, to reduce the possibility of experiencing sudden temporary hearing loss, visit our Perth hearing clinic for a routine hearing assessment. Get in touch with The Art of Hearing today at (08) 9390 8811 or book an appointment online.