Imagine you wake up one morning and you can’t hear.
There’s no specific reason why. You haven’t had a head injury or an ear infection. No one in your immediate family has hearing loss. You just wake up one morning, and your ears aren’t working properly.
Approximately 4,000 cases of sudden hearing loss occur in the United States every year. Most of the time it’s treatable and even reversible, if you get the right treatment in time.
The problem is that many people don’t.
What is Sudden Hearing Loss?
Sudden sensorineural (inner-ear) hearing loss is an unexplained, sudden loss of hearing. It can occur all at once or over a period of days, and it can happen in one or both ears.
Many people notice the hearing loss when they wake up in the morning. You may hear a loud popping sound in the affected ear just before your hearing disappears. You may also have symptoms such as dizziness, tinnitus, or a sensation of fullness in the ear, but not always.
Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss
Sudden hearing loss is caused by a disruption in the inner ear but the root cause is often a mystery. Only about 10% of cases are linked to a definite cause.
Some health issues associated with sudden deafness include:
- Head injuries
- Autoimmune disease
- Neurological disorders
- Blood circulation problems
- Inner ear disorders such as Meniere’s Disease
- Tumors on the auditory nerve
- Certain anti-cancer drugs or heavy-duty antibiotics
Diagnosis and Treatment of Sudden Hearing Loss
Sudden hearing loss should always be treated as a medical emergency. Go to a doctor immediately because if you don’t get treatment right away, the problem may be irreversible.
It’s not unusual for people with sudden hearing loss to put off seeing a doctor for days or even weeks, waiting to see if the problem will resolve on its own. Although, 50 % of cases may resolve in one two weeks.
However, you wouldn’t want to bet a lifetime of hearing on 50-50 odds.
There are a variety of ways to treat sudden hearing loss, depending on the cause. However, in 90% of cases, the underlying cause is a mystery. In that case, the usual treatment is corticosteroids—either given as a pill or injected into the ear.
The sooner the steroids are administered, the better your chances of regaining your hearing—and many doctors recommend that this treatment be administered before other tests come back.
However, we’ve seen many patients being misprescribed antibiotics in urgent care, and waiting too long to see if they work. By the time they get to us, their hearing loss is irreversible.
That’s why we strongly suggest visiting an audiologist as soon as possible if you experience sudden hearing loss. Your hearing may hang in the balance.
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Dr. Kathy Feng is a NY State licensed Doctor of Audiology with over 10 years of experience working with patients of all ages. Kathy originally studied Economics at NYU and worked in Finance before she realized that she really wanted to work and help people on a personal level. Part of her inspiration came from watching her grandmother struggle with hearing loss during her golden years. She wanted to help.