Sudden Hearing Loss IS a Medical Emergency

Wait a Minute… I can’t hear and yesterday I could… A Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden hearing loss is a temporary or even a permanent hearing reduction of 30 decibels or more in three continuous frequencies in a period of 72 hours or less. It’s not an abrupt, immediate change – like an on and off sensation – but it is a noticeable change within hours. About half of the patients diagnosed will say “When I woke up, I couldn’t hear…”

The age group most affected by a sudden hearing loss includes those between 30 and 60 years old. Most of the cases are unilateral (one ear is affected) and equally affects men and women.
Causes and Diagnosis of A Sudden Hearing Loss

There are more than one hundred possible causes making it difficult to assess which may have affected an individual’s hearing. Possible causes can be as simple as an ear wax buildup or as complicated as a vascular or blood flow change.

Causes include head traumas, neurologic causes, virus, infections, autoimmune diseases, tissue growth, toxicity and ototoxicitiy (medications harmful to the ear).

Diagnosis can be made through an audiologic and otologic (ear) examination, MRI, blood test, otoacoustic emissions test, tympanogram or a thorough patient medical history.

Medical Management

Some patients can experience spontaneous recovery – usually within 3 days. Others notice a slow improvement over a 1-2 week period. Regardless, immediate medical evaluation is recommended.

Medical management can include a medication (such as a short term oral steroid) or a simple office procedure (such as ear wax removal). All treatment will depend upon each patient’s individual situation, symptoms, and the time that has passed between the onset of the hearing loss and medical evaluation. Swift treatment is imperative to maximize the benefit of any medication and to minimize the degree of hearing loss.

If the patient experiences a permanent sudden hearing loss, amplification with medical clearance may be one solution to preserve communication and speech understanding in the affected ear.

Monitoring of Sudden Hearing Loss

Periodic audiologic examinations are recommended since partial recovery can occur in small steps and may be missed by the patient. In addition, continued monitoring can ensure the unaffected ear is functioning well.

One thing is true and important – A Sudden Hearing Loss is a Medical Emergency. As soon as you notice any drastic or sudden reduction in your hearing sensitivity, call your doctor. Time between the onset of reduced hearing and treatment is a crucial factor to diagnose and treat Sudden Hearing Loss.


– Hearing Disorders Handbook

o Authors: Maurice Miller, Ph.D., Jerome Schein, Ph.D.