Tips for Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

  1. What is SSHL? – Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, is defined as a drop of at least 30 decibels in more than three frequencies over a short period of time and most commonly affects just one ear although it can affect both ears. It seems to be most common between the ages of 30-60 and around 50% of people recover within two weeks given the right and immediate treatment.
  2. SSHL is a medical emergency and can result in permanent hearing loss and requires immediate attention, so if you have sudden loss of hearing seek medical advice as soon as possible as it may just save your hearing.
  3. What are the symptoms? – You may notice its onset by a ‘pop’ in one ear before the hearing disappears or it may fade away over a few hours. It may only be apparent when you try to use the phone on the affected ear. SSHL may also be accompanied by vertigo (dizziness), tinnitus (ringing in the ear) or a feeling of fullness in the ear.
  4. What to do if you experience sudden hearing loss? – If you experience any of the above symptoms it is important to seek immediate medical advice from an audiologist or go straight to A&E or an ENT department. Prompt action is essential to try and reverse the hearing loss. Ensure you request an emergency audiogram as this can show evidence of the hearing loss and will also rule out other possible causes such as ear wax.
  5. What are the causes of SSHL? – SSHL is thought to have various possible causes including viral infections, blood circulation problems, head trauma or autoimmune disease. In most cases the exact cause is never found, which makes prevention much harder. SSHL can happen at any age and only 10% of those diagnosed have an identifiable cause.
  6. How widespread is SSHL? Experts estimate that SSHL strikes between one and six people per 5,000 every year but often goes undiagnosed – therefore this statistic is likely to be much higher.
  7. Will I look/appear ill to others? – No. Like any hearing loss, SSHL is invisible and you may otherwise look well so it can be difficult to impress the urgency of the condition. It could literally be a matter of waking up one morning to find you cannot hear and yet do not feel unwell. The symptoms of SSHL and temporary hearing loss are very similar so you may be tempted to put the symptoms down to a temporary blockage caused by wax or fluid. However, these symptoms may also be a result of SSHL and therefore, all types of hearing loss must be checked in order to rule out anything serious.
  8. How is SSHL treated? – SSHL is most commonly treated by commonly treated with a course of high dose oral steroids although in some cases the best treatment may be to give steroid injectionsinto the ear to help to reduce swelling and inflammation. It is suggested that SSHL should be treated within 2-3 days of the initial loss of hearing to achieve the best possible outcome. Waiting even just two weeks for medical advice is likely to result in complete loss of hearing in the affected ear.
  9. Who is most likely to experience SSHL – If you have recently experienced a trauma to the head, ear infection, blood circulation issues, Ménière’s disease or neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis you may be at increased risk of SSHL. However, SSHL can affect anyone at any age so make sure you take any hearing loss seriously.
  10. Ways to prevent SSHL – Although there are no clear-cut ways to deter the onset of SSHL, these are some things to bear in mind day-to-day to assure you are as healthy as you can be. Protecting your everyday health can help protect your ear health:-
  • Protect your hearing at work if needs be.
  • Get your hearing tested every 2-5 years depending on your age.
  • Always wear a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike
  • Treat sinus infections early
  • Have a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Protect your ears in loud environments
  • Keep a check on your blood pressure as high blood pressure can cause vascular episode in the cochlea
  • Be aware of tinnitus (ringing in the ear) – sudden onset or change in tone.
  • Get enough sleep

By Duncan Collet-Fenson, Audiologist & MD of Aston Hearing