Learn causes, symptoms and treatments.
Hearing loss often happens gradually over time. However, sometimes it can come on suddenly, either instantly or over the course of a few days. Sudden hearing loss can be a very upsetting and confusing issue to experience. The good news is that temporary hearing loss can often be remedied, especially if diagnosed and treated early. Here, we break down the main causes for temporary or sudden hearing loss, as well as treatment options and (most importantly), what you can do to minimize your risk of experiencing it.
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness) occurs when you experience an accelerated loss of hearing. It can happen all at once or over the course of several days. Sudden hearing loss is often unilateral, or affects only one ear. In fact, 90% of those who experience this kind of hearing loss only experience symptoms in one of their ears.
A range of symptoms accompany sudden hearing loss, such as:
Sudden or temporary hearing loss, as with other types of hearing loss, typically occurs due to one of two reasons:
Here are some common causes of sudden hearing loss:
Some medications have been discovered to be ototoxic, which means they can be harmful to ears and hearing. Taking these types of medications can damage the sensory cells of the ear and cause hearing issues such as tinnitus and hearing loss.
There are more than 200 medications known to be ototoxic—many of them are used to treat cancer, heart disease and infections. While some of these medications can cause permanent hearing damage, others result in just a temporary hearing loss. Medications known to cause temporary hearing loss include high doses of aspirin and NSAIDs (ex. ibuprofen), quinine (used to treat malaria), and loop diuretics (often prescribed for heart and kidney conditions).
An abrupt, violent blow to the head, such as those from a car accident or explosion, can cause brain concussions and injuries. These injuries can damage the auditory system and pathway, resulting in sudden hearing loss. The middle and inner ear are more commonly affected, particularly the sensitive nerve cells in the cochlea (inner ear). Nerve cell damage can lead to hearing loss, as well as tinnitus.
Sometimes a head injury only affects the outer or middle ear, resulting in a type of hearing loss called conductive hearing loss. The hearing loss typically goes away within a few months in these cases. However, if the trauma is severe enough to damage the inner ear, the sudden hearing loss may become a long-term, permanent hearing loss.
While you may be tempted to wait it out, it’s important to see your doctor right away if you’re experiencing sudden or temporary hearing loss. Early treatment can often mean better chance at a faster and fuller recovery. Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical exam. He or she may refer you to an ENT—a doctor who specializes in ears, nose and throat. Be sure to disclose any medications you’re currently taking, as well as any diagnosed medical conditions you already have.
The doctor may perform certain tests to assess your hearing at different sound volumes, as well as check for any damage to your middle ear and eardrum. He or she may also order blood tests or an MRI to get detailed images of the ear and brain to check for any cysts, tumors or other abnormalities.
Steroids are one of the most common treatment options for this type of hearing loss. They can help reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as help the body fight off infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed if an infection is diagnosed or suspected. The doctor may have you stop or switch medications if one you’re taking is harmful to ears.
Here are some simple tips to help reduce your risk of temporary or sudden hearing loss: