What is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Nov 18, 2020Hearing Loss

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) or sudden deafness is a rapid loss of hearing that occurs instantly or over a 72-hour period. Any sudden loss of hearing is serious and requires immediate action for the best chance of recovery.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss can occur in one or both ears, but more often it is just the one ear. Some people wake up to find a noticeable loss of hearing, while others feel rapid deterioration over the course of the day. Sometimes it is accompanied by tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and/or dizziness. It can affect men and women equally and affects a range of age groups.

Causes of SSNHL:

A sudden loss of hearing can occur due to damage to the cochlea (inner ear) or auditory nerve. Often the cause of SSNHL cannot be determined as people do not act quickly enough and it is termed ‘idiopathic’. Other causes include:

  • Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease and Syphilis,
  • Viral infections such as mumps,
  •  Meniere’s disease
  • Otosclerosis
  • Autoimmune disease,
  •  Exposure to loud noise,
  • Trauma to the ear or head, including bone fractures,
  • Issues with blood circulation,
  • Metabolic conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism,
  • Abnormal tissue growth or tumours,
  • Medication that can cause hearing loss such as aminoglycoside antibiotics and chemotherapy agents.

SSNHL—Diagnosis and treatment:

SSNHL is initially diagnosed with a hearing test. A comprehensive audiological assessment will determine how much hearing you have lost, and which part of the ear is affected – the outer, middle, or inner ear. If the hearing loss is a result of a problem with the outer or middle ear, a follow-up appointment with your GP is recommended and these are usually treatable medically. However, if the hearing loss occurs in the inner ear, your audiologist will most likely recommend that you go to the Emergency Department at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital to get immediate treatment.

The doctors will do some further investigations to try to determine the cause of the SSNHL. This may include an MRI scan. If the underlying cause of the SSNHL can be determined, recommendations for treating the condition will be given to you. Often a prescription for steroids is given. Steroids reduce inflammation and can sometimes restore your hearing. The likelihood of hearing recovery depends on factors such as the severity of the hearing loss, how long you had the hearing loss before you sought treatment and your age.

A hearing test following any treatment is recommended to determine the success of the treatment. If your hearing or any associated tinnitus does not improve following treatment, your audiologist can discuss options with you to help.

Take immediate action!

Any sudden loss in hearing should be addressed immediately to improve the likelihood of recovering your hearing. If you notice any sudden drop in your hearing, it is important to have your hearing tested and then seek medical attention. The faster you recognise a sudden hearing loss and seek medical attention, the greater the chances are of reversing the hearing loss.

For further information or to book an urgent hearing test, please call us at Knox Audiology on 9839 3350.

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