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Don’t Ignore Sudden Hearing Loss

Roughly 15 percent of adults 18 and over report experiencing some type of hearing-related problem, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It’s more common for hearing loss to occur gradually due, in part, to age-related changes in ears, but there are times when hearing loss is sudden and unexpected. If this is what you are dealing with, here’s why it’s not something you should ignore.

What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?

Some people experience sudden hearing loss (SHL) from obvious sources, like attending a loud concert or being exposed to environmental noises without sufficient ear protection. In some cases, loud blasts of noise or sudden pressure changes contribute to SHL because of a ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation). Contributing factors could also include:

  • A viral infection
  • An immune system malfunction
  • An inflammation-based injury affecting one or both ears
  • Blocked inner/middle ear blood flow

What Are Signs and Symptoms?

Sudden hearing loss may first become noticeable when you feel like your ear is plugged up. You could also hear a “popping” sound before your hearing starts to diminish. However, despite the name, it’s not unusual for this type of hearing loss to gradually get worse when it starts over several minutes or hours.

SHL also has the potential to affect your balance and increase your risk of falling. In some instances, a sudden loss of hearing may even be related to a small stroke or tumor.

How Is Sudden Hearing Loss Treated?

Because of the many possible causes of sudden hearing loss, receiving a proper diagnosis is the first step you should take. This process usually involves a physical exam, an assessment of the affected ear, and various hearing tests. SHL is typically treated with steroid medication taken for 2-3 weeks. The medication can be taken orally, or a shot may be administered into the eardrum. Treatment sometimes involves both oral and injected corticosteroids.

How You Can Tell If It’s Not Just a Stuffed Up Ear?

One way to tell if you have SHL or a stuffed up ear is with the “hum” test. Simply hum to yourself. If the humming is shifting from one ear to the other one, it’s a sign of sudden hearing loss.

Regardless of the nature of your sudden hearing loss, don’t assume it will simply go away on its own. If your hearing impairment isn’t entirely correctable with medication and other common treatments, you may benefit from a hearing aid that’s customized to your type of hearing loss.