When people experience hearing loss, it can be devastating. This is never more true than when it happens suddenly. “Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss” (SSHL) is a very serious medical emergency often described as going to bed with perfectly good hearing and then waking up the next day hearing nothing, typically out of one ear.
The ear is divided into three sections: the ear canal, outer ear and inner ear and a problem occurring in any of these areas of the ear can lead to hearing loss. Sound waves travel through the structures of the ear and over sensory nerve cells that send signals to the brain to interpret sounds. Damage (often caused by loud repetitive noises, such as loud music, using loud equipment, and gun blasts) to these cells causes hearing loss over time.
One reason for the sudden loss of hearing could be from ear wax impaction. Signs of this condition are when sounds seem fuzzy, or when water gets into the ear, it hurts, “pops,” and then feels better. Other causes could be from trauma to the ear, head or neck, or complications from an upper respiratory infection.
Whatever the cause, if you experience sudden hearing loss, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. A good rule of thumb is to seek medical attention within three days of sudden hearing loss occurring. Waiting longer runs the risk of loss of hearing, especially if the hearing loss is due to a problem in the inner ear.
Evaluations by a primary care doctor or an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist will determine the best treatment option for you. Most evaluations begin with a hearing test, followed by a medical prescription, or perhaps a recommendation for a hearing assistive device.
It is also important to note that sometimes individuals that have symptoms for hearing problems are actually undergoing treatment for respiratory allergies, where their allergy symptoms are incorrectly being attributed to the hearing issues they’re truly experiencing. An ENT specialist can evaluate, diagnose, and treat respiratory allergies and a number of conditions affecting the ears, head and neck in adults and children.
Protecting the hearing that you do have is always your best option, but if you experience sudden hearing loss, you may need medical intervention to help determine the cause and a treatment plan for your condition.