While many people experience hearing loss slowly over time, there are situations where sudden hearing loss occurs – resulting in a loss of hearing that happens in an instant or over a period of a few days.
Does Sudden Hearing Loss Affect One or Both Ears?
The cause of hearing loss will determine whether one or both ears are affected. Frequently, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear, which means the patient hopefully still has good hearing in the unaffected ear.
This condition is known as sudden deafness or sensorineural (“inner ear”) hearing loss (SSHL).
Symptoms of Sudden Hearing Loss
A change of hearing capability is the most obvious symptom of this sudden type of hearing loss. However, a person might not notice it until they are in a certain circumstance because there is still a good ear bringing in the sounds.
For example, a patient might hold a phone up to their affected ear and realize they can’t hear. Or, some patients notice hearing loss when they wake up in the morning.
Patients might experience a loud noise or a “pop” in the affected ear right before losing their hearing.
Other symptoms that might coincide with sudden hearing loss include:
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
What Would Cause a Sudden Loss of Hearing in One Ear?
Typically, when a sudden loss of hearing occurs, it means that there is something wrong with the sensory organs located in the inner ear area.
Many people experience sudden hearing loss without an identifiable cause. When you visit an ENT, they will work to identify the underlying conditions that could be contributing to this hearing loss. Unfortunately, only about 10% of patients have an identifiable cause.
People of all ages can have sudden hearing loss, but this condition is most common in adults in their 40s and 50s.
Health conditions that could be causing sudden hearing loss include:
- Head trauma
- Autoimmune conditions
- Use of certain prescription medications
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neurological disorders
- Problems with blood circulation
- Meniere’s disease and other disorders affecting the inner ear
Most of the time, other symptoms, along with sudden hearing loss, help an ENT determine the accurate diagnosis.
Your ENT will want to know your full medical history to determine the proper diagnosis and underlying cause. One important question is whether the hearing loss affects one or both ears. For example, if both ears are affected, then it helps to rule out an inner-ear tumor.
Should You See an ENT About Hearing Loss in One Ear?
Whenever there is a change in your hearing, whether it is gradual or sudden, it’s essential that you talk to an ENT or audiologist as soon as possible.
Some patients delay this appointment because they assume that the hearing loss is related to common conditions, such as a plugged ear canal due to excess ear wax, allergies, a head cold, sinus infection, and more.
If you notice sudden hearing loss in one ear, then seek immediate medical treatment. This condition is an emergency, and you need to visit a doctor without delay.
Immediate medical care increases your long-term prognosis. For example, treatments might be available to stop continued loss of hearing or address an underlying condition that is contributing to your hearing loss.
Will My Hearing Come Back?
About half of all patients who experience sudden hearing loss recover all or part of their hearing within 1 – 2 weeks from the start of symptoms. Seeking medical treatment from an ENT right away is one of the best ways to increase the likelihood of recovering at least a portion of your hearing.
When treatment is delayed by several weeks, it increases the likelihood of permanent hearing loss. In addition, the longer you wait to see an ENT, the higher the risk that you won’t recover your hearing.
Treatment Options for Unexplained Sudden Hearing Loss
If the cause is unknown, the most common treatment for sudden hearing loss is the use of corticosteroids. These steroids may help treat different types of disorders with the goal of reducing inflammation.
If there is an underlying illness or unexplained swelling, then the use of steroid prescriptions can address this root cause – which naturally improves resulting symptoms (like sudden hearing loss).
When steroids are being used, timing matters. These medications should be used as soon as possible to increase the likelihood of an effective treatment. In fact, some doctors start patients on steroids immediately, even if they are still waiting for the results from digital imaging.
Treating the Root Cause of Sudden Hearing Loss
Ideally, the ENT can determine the exact cause of hearing loss. Then they can recommend an ideal treatment plan to address these conditions.
For example, antibiotics might be the ideal treatment when an underlying infection causes sudden hearing loss.
If you are taking other prescription drugs that can affect hearing, the doctor might recommend changing to a different medication.
When an autoimmune condition appears to cause sudden hearing loss (because the immune system is attacking the inner ear), then your doctor might recommend using immune-suppressing prescription medications.
Will Hearing Aids Be Necessary?
Hopefully, the treatment options listed above will address the issues and improve the likelihood that the patient’s hearing will be restored. But if severe hearing loss occurs in both ears and/or it isn’t responding to treatment, your doctor might talk to you about hearing amplification using hearing aids.
Many types of hearing loss are irreversible. When the treatments aren’t working, the next best solution is to optimize the available hearing using hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Call an ENT Right Away
When sudden hearing loss occurs, you have a brief window of time to save your hearing. It’s essential to understand that this condition is a medical emergency, which means you should call your ENT as soon as possible.
Immediate treatment improves the likelihood of restoring all or part of your hearing. Delaying treatment reduces the likelihood of hearing improvements in the coming days or weeks – resulting in permanent hearing loss.
If you usually have normal hearing and something changes, it’s not normal. The sooner you meet with an ENT, the better. Every day you wait for treatment reduces your chance for recovery.
Call an ENT in the Collin County or Dallas area as soon as possible for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat is always available, with two convenient offices in Frisco and Plano, TX. There is the option to request an examination using our online form. Or, if it’s an emergency (such as sudden hearing loss), pick up the phone and call us at (972) 596-4005.