What is Sudden Deafness?


Most people with hearing loss in Walnut Creek and across the Bay Area develop their condition gradually. It usually takes years for hearing loss to fully set in; in fact, the process is often so slow the patient doesn’t even notice their condition for quite some time. Occasionally, hearing loss comes on much quicker – in some cases, within a matter of hours or days. This frightening condition is known as sudden deafness.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

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The medical term for sudden deafness is sudden sensorineural hearing loss, often abbreviated SSHL because – let’s face it – that’s a mouthful to say. Sudden deafness is defined as any reduction in hearing of 30 decibels (dB) or greater that affects three contiguous frequencies over a period of 72 hours or less. Nine out of ten people who experience sudden deafness in Encino will lose hearing in only one ear. They might also experience dizziness or tinnitus.

The severity of sudden deafness varies among individuals. For some people, hearing returns to normal without any type of treatment within a few days. Others experience gradual improvement after a few weeks. 15 percent of individuals with sudden deafness notice a continued decline in their hearing abilities.

Causes and Treatment of SSHL

The onset of sudden deafness is understandably scary. While it’s pretty rare, there are over 100 possible causes; these include disease, infection, trauma, neurological disorders, circulatory problems, abnormal tissue growth and ototoxic drugs. Antibiotics are especially troublesome; certain types destroy the hair cells of the inner ear that are responsible for hearing with little or no warning.

Symptoms associated with sudden deafness may occur before or during its onset. These include:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • A sudden loud “pop” in the ear, similar to a pressure change
  • Muffled hearing upon waking up or when using the telephone

If you have been diagnosed with meningitis at some point in your life; suffered a recent head injury or ear infection; been exposed to loud noise; undergone a sudden change in pressure or started taking a new medication, your risk of developing sudden deafness is elevated.

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately. Your Walnut Creek audiologist needs to see you right away to improve your chances of a full recovery. Treatment depends on the cause; the most common solution involves steroids to reduce inflammation and assist the body in fighting off disease.