Most hearing losses occur gradually over time. We notice that we start to have problems hearing certain voices or in certain situations. We might start asking people to repeat. Family or friends may start to make comments about it. Slowly we become aware that we are not hearing as well as we used to. However, hearing loss can also happen in other ways. It doesn’t happen often, but let’s say one day you wake up and you notice that you aren’t hearing out of one of your ears. Or perhaps you put the phone up to your ear and you can’t hear anything, or even that you hear a loud ring and then suddenly everything goes silent. This is called a sudden onset hearing loss. Sudden onset hearing loss is a serious issue. Most sudden onset losses are sensorineural hearing losses, which means the sense organ for hearing or the auditory nerve has been affected. While there is a lot that we don’t know about it, there are a few possible causes for sudden onset hearing loss.
Our ears can get sick, just like the rest of our body. Sometimes a virus will attack our ear and cause a sudden hearing loss. It can also be accompanied by loud ringing or buzzing in that ear and dizziness.
The ear requires a regular blood supply to continue to function, just like the rest of our body. If we cut off or restrict the blood supply to the ear, there may be some damage to important structures necessary for hearing.
Our body’s immune system can also be triggered to attack our ear thinking it is a virus or something that needs to be destroyed.
Acoustic trauma is an incredibly loud, but typically not very long exposure to loud sound. Examples are firecrackers and gunshots. While the ear has a protective reflex that tries to protect from sustained loud sounds, when the loud sound is very short, the reflex doesn’t have a chance to kick in before the sound is gone. Plus the volume of these blasts is so loud, that no matter what the cause of the hearing loss is if you or a loved one should experience a sudden onset hearing loss, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Call your Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist if you have one, or call your primary care physician. You will most likely have to leave a message, be sure to stress that you have experienced a sudden loss of hearing. If you aren’t able to get in touch with your personal physician, go to the Emergency Room. You will have the best chance of regaining some or most of your hearing if receive treatment as soon as possible after the loss of hearing. Treatment typically involves taking a medication such as steroids, an anti-inflammatory or anti-viral medication. It is usually a good idea to have a hearing test early on and then in intervals afterward to assess the change in hearing to determine if hearing is returning.