What is Sudden Hearing Loss?
As the name implies, sudden hearing loss can occur suddenly or develop within a few hours. It is still unclear what exactly causes sudden hearing loss, and the medical world is searching for ways to better understand this phenomenon.
The effects of sudden hearing loss range from mild to severe depending on other health factors, and can potentially become a permanent condition. Sudden hearing loss may also occur together with tinnitus. We recommend that you consult a doctor immediately if you suspect that you are experiencing sudden hearing loss. If symptoms persist for an extended period of time, hearing aids can provide effective relief.
What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?
The exact cause of sudden hearing loss is unknown. Nevertheless, we do know that circulation in the inner ear is reduced during sudden hearing loss. Therefore, one theory for its cause is stress. A hectic environment or severe time pressure at work could lead to circulatory disorders, potentially leading to sudden hearing loss.
Other possible causes of sudden hearing loss include:
- Viral infections or reactivations (e.g. herpes or chickenpox)
- Arteriosclerosis and subsequent circulatory disorders
- Metabolic disorders, such as diabetes or high cholesterol
- A ruptured oval or round window
- Cervical spine injury (e.g. whiplash)
- Elevated platelet aggregation (blood clots)
- Occlusion (thrombosis) of the inner ear’s vessels
- Autoimmune diseases
- Previous acute otitis media (middle ear infection)
Types of Sudden Hearing Loss
Sudden idiopathic hearing loss
Idiopathic means “without recognizable cause.” This is the most common (and sudden) type of hearing loss. Extensive examination cannot determine an organic cause.
Stress-related sudden hearing loss
Stress is a frequent trigger for sudden hearing loss. Therefore, it is imperative that you reduce your stress levels so that you can better cope with demanding situations. Regular exercise can be helpful in eliminating stress.
The Symptoms of Sudden Hearing Loss
Ear pressure and/or tinnitus are typically the first signs of sudden hearing loss. Symptoms occur at once or within a few days, usually in one ear, and can vary in severity. In worst case scenarios, permanent deafness is possible.
Diagnosing Sudden Hearing Loss
A diagnosis for sudden hearing loss is determined through process of elimination. Various examination procedures (e.g. blood pressure measurement, blood tests, ear microscopy or ultrasound, and MRIs) are all performed to obtain the best results. For example, an ENT doctor can use otoscopy to discover obstructions or injuries in the ear canal. By using hearing tests (tuning fork test or pure-tone audiometry), a doctor can determine the extent and localization (inner or middle ear) of your hearing loss, and classify your sudden hearing loss into high, mid, or low frequency. A pure-tone audiogram is performed during the diagnostic process to determine if you have pan cochlear sensorineural hearing loss.
Complications Following Sudden Hearing Loss
Sudden hearing loss may result in various complications, including persistent or permanent hearing loss or complete deafness. Another possible long-term complication is the development of tinnitus, which can also be accompanied by a permanent feeling of pressure in the ear. In some cases, sudden hearing loss is followed by a feeling of internal restlessness and a racing heartbeat.