Have you or a loved one recently started experiencing hearing problems? Maybe you woke up one morning and noticed that your hearing seemed to be “off.” Or perhaps you were out to lunch with friends and found that you were suddenly having trouble hearing everything that they were saying.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders defines sudden deafness as “an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing either all at once or over a few days.” There are two main types of hearing loss—conductive hearing loss (which affects the outer and/or middle ear) and sensorineural hearing loss (which affects the inner ear)—and while sudden hearing loss can affect both ears (bilateral hearing loss), it most commonly involves only one ear (unilateral hearing loss).
Below, we explore the symptoms commonly associated with sudden hearing loss and discuss what could potentially cause this condition to occur. We also explain what sudden hearing loss diagnosis and treatment often involve, and we share where you can receive treatment for this condition in the Tampa Bay area.
Sudden Hearing Loss Symptoms
As its name suggests, sudden hearing loss is primarily characterized by the rapid onset of hearing difficulties (as was noted above, this may occur all at once or over the course of a few days). When this happens, sounds may appear to be muffled or quieter than normal, especially when there’s a considerable amount of background noise.
Many people who experience sudden hearing loss discover the issue when they first wake up, while others begin noticing it when they attempt to use the affected ear (for example, when they hold a phone or an earbud up to that ear). But in some cases, sudden hearing loss is immediately preceded by a loud popping noise, which can be quite alarming.
Other common sudden hearing loss symptoms include:
- A feeling of fullness within the ear
- Dizziness (vertigo)
- Ringing or buzzing in the ear (tinnitus)
Sudden Hearing Loss Causes
Sudden hearing loss has a number of potential causes, one of the most common being viral infections. Even something as minor as the common cold can lead to hearing loss if the underlying virus or any resulting inflammation damages the inner ear. Other possible causes of sudden hearing loss include:
- Autoimmune diseases (for example, Cogan syndrome)
- Bacterial infections (for example, meningitis)
- Certain medications
- Circulation problems (for example, vasculitis)
- Earwax or fluid buildup
- Exposure to certain insecticides (for example, malathion and methoxychlor)
- Head injuries
- Inner ear disorders (for example, Meniere’s disease)
- Neurological conditions (for example, multiple sclerosis)
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises
- Tumors on a nerve connecting the ear to the brain (acoustic neuromas)
- Venomous snake bites
It’s important to note that in many cases, sudden hearing loss doesn’t have an identifiable cause.
Sudden Hearing Loss Diagnosis
Many people with sudden hearing loss recover some or all of their hearing on their own. However, if you’re experiencing the symptoms of this condition, it’s important to consult with a medical provider as soon as possible. Failing to promptly address the sudden loss of hearing can make subsequent treatment more difficult and, in some cases, lead to permanent hearing loss. For that reason, sudden hearing loss is considered to be a medical emergency.
When you meet with a physician about sudden hearing loss, they’ll likely begin by asking you about your symptoms as well as your personal and family medical histories. Because sudden hearing loss can sometimes result from certain medications, it’s important to provide a full list of any prescription or over-the-counter drugs you may be taking.
Your doctor will then perform a physical examination to determine whether ear wax, fluid, or another obstruction could potentially be causing your symptoms. If that examination doesn’t reveal the cause of your sudden hearing loss, the provider may perform a pure-tone audiometry test to measure your hearing sensitivity. Other diagnostic tests commonly used in cases of sudden deafness include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
- Certain blood tests, guided by your medical history
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Sudden hearing loss can occur as a result of head injuries, bacterial infections and other causes. Consult with Dr. Branch for a diagnosis and treatment options.SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT
Sudden Hearing Loss Treatment
Treatment for sudden hearing loss will vary from one patient to another depending on factors such as what’s causing the deafness. For example, if a patient’s symptoms resulted from a bacterial infection, then their physician may prescribe antibiotics. Or, if their hearing loss was caused by an autoimmune disease, then the provider may recommend immunosuppressive drugs. Especially severe cases that don’t respond to other treatment methods may require a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
With that said, sudden hearing loss is often treated with corticosteroids (for example, prednisone), which help reduce swelling and inflammation. Corticosteroids can be administered in pill form or through injections into the eardrum (intratympanic injections). Each option offers its own set of pros and cons—oral corticosteroids can be taken at home but are more likely to produce side effects (for example, insomnia, mood swings, and an upset stomach), while injected corticosteroids are less likely to cause side effects but require a trip to the doctor.
Treatment for Sudden Hearing Loss in Tampa Bay
If you need sudden hearing loss treatment, you can rely on the otolaryngology specialists at Florida Medical Clinic. Our practice has been serving the Tampa Bay community since 1993, and we’re pleased to treat patients at numerous offices throughout the area, including ones in WaterGrass (at 7760 Curley Road) and Zephyrhills (at 36763 Eiland Boulevard). Click here to request an appointment with Dr. Branch at one of these locations.
About Dr. Michael Branch, MD
A Florida native, Dr. Branch received his medical degree from Wake Forest University’s Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. He then proceeded to complete a general surgery residency at Methodist Central Hospital in Memphis, TN, as well as an otolaryngology – head and neck surgery residency at the University of Tennessee, also in Memphis. Dr. Branch has earned board certification from the American Board of Otolaryngology, specializing in nasal congestion/obstruction, chronic sinusitis, chronic ear disease, hearing loss, hearing aids, and chronic hoarseness. When not treating patients, he enjoys writing, playing, and recording music.