Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, is rapid, unexplained hearing loss. Nearly 4,000 new cases of SSHL are diagnosed in the U.S. annually. Although both ears can be affected, about nine out of 10 cases involve hearing loss in one ear. The level of deafness varies, but to be diagnosed as SSHL, there must be a loss of at least 30 decibels.1,2
What to Know About SSHL
SSHL is different for everyone, but it usually develops over the course of 72 hours or less – sometimes instantaneously. Many people notice they’ve lost hearing in one ear after waking up in the morning. Some may notice a startling “pop” before their hearing fades. In many cases, tinnitus and vestibular symptoms co-occur with SSHL.
Due to the condition’s sudden nature, many people put off treatment and attribute their hearing loss to allergies, blocked ear canals or sinus infection. Delaying treatment, however, can decrease its effectiveness. It’s recommended people who experience sudden hearing loss seek care from an otolaryngologist, or ENT, as soon as possible.
Who is Affected?
SSHL affects men and women equally, usually adults. According to the American Hearing Research Foundation, the average age of onset SSHL is 46 to 49.2 Babies can be born with SSHL if an infection passes from the mother to the child in the womb. This is known as congenital SSHL. Other risk factors include low birth weight, genetic factors or toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite.
Diagnosis begins with your doctor asking about your medical history, evaluating your ear canals for infection or obstruction and checking to make sure you’re not taking any medications that could induce hearing loss.
Pure tone audiometry is used to measure your hearing ability and identify potential causes of hearing loss. The test determines at which level, or decibel, your hearing loss begins by sending sounds at various volumes to each ear individually through earphones.
If your doctor diagnoses you with SSHL, they might request blood testing and an MRI to rule out circulatory issues and acoustic neuroma – the latter has been found in roughly 15 percent of SSHL diagnoses.2
Although most cases of SSHL don’t have an identifiable cause, some of the common causes include:
• Head trauma
• Neurologic disorders
• Infectious diseases, like Lyme disease
• Autoimmune disease
• Circulatory issues
• Ménière’s disease
• Ototoxic drugs
• Growths and tumors
The most common prevailing symptom of SSHL is sudden hearing loss, most often in one ear. Other symptoms involve difficulty hearing in certain situations. Although hearing loss is described as “sudden,” it’s not always overt. Sounds may only be muffled or dim. You might only notice a change when using headphones, talking on the phone or having a group conversation.
Other SSHL symptoms include:
- Balance problems
- Muffled high-pitched sounds
- Trouble hearing with a lot of background noise
Treatment and Recovery Outlook
SSHL treatments vary depending on the cause. When an exact cause can’t be determined, corticosteroids are often prescribed to help reduce inflammation and swelling. Recovery time is generally about two weeks. Hearing outlook after SSHL is mostly positive:1,3
- 50 percent recover some or all their hearing spontaneously
- 85 percent recover some hearing after receiving treatment
- Only about 15 percent experience gradual hearing loss
If hearing can’t be recovered, an ENT may recommend a cochlear implant, which amplifies hearing to previous levels.
Hear Loud and Clear With Davis Family Hearing
Hearing is a crucial part of everyday communication. With old age or conditions like SSHL, hearing loss can be unavoidable. The audiologists at Davis Family Hearing will work with you to improve your hearing and provide you with a better quality of life. If you would like more information or to schedule an appointment, call (352) 666-8910 or contact us online.