Sudden Hearing Loss: Symptoms, Causes, and Immediate Steps

February 8, 2024

By Justin Ly


Have you ever imagined waking up one day and finding the world around you unusually quiet? This isn’t just a thought experiment for some Australians – it’s a sudden, alarming reality. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL), or sudden deafness, strikes unexpectedly, turning lives upside down. 

In Australia, while the occurrence is relatively low – with about 5 to 20 cases per 100,000 people – it’s a condition that doesn’t discriminate, affecting individuals across genders equally, predominantly in those aged 30 to 60 years​​.

This blog aims to demystify this perplexing condition. We’ll look into the symptoms you need to watch out for, explore the potential causes behind this abrupt loss of hearing, and, most importantly, outline the immediate steps you should take if it happens to you or someone you know. 

What are the symptoms of sudden hearing loss? 

Imagine you’re enjoying a typical day, and suddenly, one ear doesn’t seem to cooperate. This isn’t about missing a few words here and there; it’s a significant drop in your hearing, often within hours or even minutes. That’s the hallmark of sudden hearing loss, as startling as it sounds.

First, let’s clear a common misconception: it’s not always about complete deafness. You might still hear, but it’s like listening through a muffled, distant tunnel. This hearing loss is often accompanied by a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears, known in medical terms as tinnitus. For some, it might feel like your ear is full or blocked – similar to the sensation you get during a flight takeoff or landing.

Aside from rapid hearing loss and tinnitus, the other two symptoms of SSNHL are: 

  • Ear Fullness: A sensation of fullness or pressure in your ear, similar to what you might feel during a flight’s ascent or descent.
  • Dizziness or Balance Issues: You may experience vertigo, a spinning sensation, or feeling unsteady.

Remember, these symptoms can arise quite suddenly and signal seeking medical attention promptly.

What causes sudden hearing loss? 

Sudden hearing loss is a bit of a medical mystery, but several known factors might be behind this sudden change. Let’s break down these potential causes:

  • Viral Infections: These are the usual suspects. Think of viruses that cause the common cold or flu. Sometimes, they can also affect your inner ear, leading to hearing loss.
  • Vascular Issues: This is about blood flow. If something blocks the blood vessels in your inner ear, it can starve the ear of necessary nutrients and oxygen, leading to hearing problems.
  • Inflammatory Conditions: Inflammation in the body can also impact your ears. Conditions like autoimmune diseases, where your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, can contribute to SSNHL.
  • Trauma or Injury: A severe head injury or exposure to loud noises (like a concert or explosion) can cause sudden hearing loss.
  • Neurological Disorders: Certain conditions that affect the brain and nerves can also impact your hearing unexpectedly.
  • Other Medical Conditions: Sometimes, issues like a tumour or certain medications can be the culprits behind your hearing woes.

It’s a complex mix, isn’t it? While these are some common causes, sometimes the exact reason remains unknown. What’s crucial to remember is that if you experience sudden hearing loss, getting to a doctor as soon as possible can help pinpoint the cause and start the right treatment.

IMPORTANT: Sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency

Imagine if losing your hearing suddenly was like a ‘check engine’ light flashing on your car’s dashboard. You wouldn’t ignore that, would you? This is exactly how you should think about sudden hearing loss. It’s an urgent signal from your body that something’s not right.

The effectiveness of treatment is often directly linked to how quickly you act. Delaying a visit to the doctor can significantly diminish your chances of regaining your hearing. But it’s not just about the hearing itself. Seeking prompt medical care is crucial for uncovering any underlying health issues that might be causing the hearing loss. 

Early intervention can prevent further damage and ensure you receive the appropriate treatment tailored to the specific cause of your hearing loss.

So, if you’re experiencing sudden changes in your hearing, don’t wait. Rushing to a healthcare professional isn’t an overreaction; it’s a wise decision for your overall health and well-being.

Immediate Steps to Take

If sudden hearing loss strikes you or someone you know, here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Stay Calm: It’s vital to remain calm to make clear decisions.
  • Seek Immediate Medical Help: Don’t delay. Go straight to the nearest hospital or emergency room. Sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency, and quick action is crucial.
  • Refrain from Self-Treatment: Avoid using over-the-counter ear drops or any medication not specifically prescribed for this condition.
  • Note Other Symptoms: If you’re experiencing additional symptoms like dizziness or ear ringing, make a mental note or jot them down. These details can be crucial for your healthcare provider.
  • Communicate Clearly at the Hospital: Inform the medical staff that your hearing loss occurred suddenly. This information is critical for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Remember, by following these steps, you’re taking a proactive approach to managing your health and addressing sudden hearing loss effectively.

Get a FREE Hearing Check at Freedom Hearing 

Understanding SSNHL isn’t just about dealing with a medical condition; it’s about being prepared and proactive in safeguarding one of your most vital senses.

And while we’ve covered what to do in an emergency, regular hearing checks are just as crucial. They are your first line of defence in maintaining good hearing health.

We encourage you to take advantage of a FREE hearing check at Freedom Hearing. It’s a simple step, but one that can provide peace of mind and vital information about the health of your ears. So, don’t wait until there’s a problem. Be proactive, and make hearing health a priority.

Book your FREE hearing check