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One minute, everything sounds completely normal. The next, everything sounds muffled like speaking to someone on the other side of a wall — sudden hearing loss typically occurs without any warning. Therefore it's beneficial to be aware of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of sudden hearing loss. You can find answers to the most frequently asked questions here.

What is sudden hearing loss?

Hearing loss can sneak up on you, reducing your enjoyment of precious moments like sound of a summer breeze or sharing a joke with a loved one. It can also begin suddenly, without any apparent external cause. This is a particular type of hearing loss. The sounds that reach the ear are no longer converted into nerve impulses sent to the brain, as they would without a hearing loss.

Symptoms often occur in one ear only, and are painless. The hearing loss may be so minimal that it goes unnoticed, or the opposite which results in complete deafness. Sudden hearing loss can affect anyone.

The onset of a hearing problem impacts upon not only your well-being and quality of life but also on the well-being and quality of life of others. From daily social interactions to precious moments with loved ones, hearing loss affects your ability to enjoy life to the fullest.
Woman staring off into distance over the lake

How can sudden hearing loss be identified?

A few, typical symptoms are used to identify hearing loss. Hearing loss or "incorrect" perception of sounds can develop suddenly, from one moment to the next. The world around you sounds quieter in one or both ears. Voices and music can suddenly sound different, or strange. Everything sounds as if it were wrapped up in cotton wool. You might also hear “double” sounds.
You may no longer indicate where a particular sound is coming from. Those with sudden hearing loss typically describe feeling a furry sensation around the auricle, or pressure on the ear. Problems such as tinnitus may also occur. In rare cases, the hearing loss may be accompanied by feelings of dizziness.
 

What causes sudden hearing loss?

Although the specific cause is unknown, several theories exist. Medical professionals suspect that it involves a circulatory disorder in the smallest blood vessels of the inner ear, which is why the illness is also referred to as a sudden hearing loss. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss is due to inflammation or a virus (e.g. from a middle ear infection). The tissue around the sensory organs may become inflamed during an infection, which may damage the hearing.
Some viruses affect the nerves. If the cochlear nerve is affected, hearing is impaired. Stress is also regarded as a potential trigger that can, as a minimum, contribute to the harmful impact of the disease. Patients often state that they were under extreme stress before the symptoms occurred. In some people, stress has a negative impact on physical functions and may therefore also affect the ears, which are known to be particularly sensitive.

What can be done in the event of sudden hearing loss?

Between 40 and 100 people out of 100,000 are affected each year by sudden hearing loss. Their ability to hear decreases dramatically from one moment to the next, usually in just one ear. Severity can vary from a dull feeling, as if everything had been wrapped up in cotton wool, to noises inside the ear such as tinnitus, to profound deafness. 

Wait or seek treatment?

Although hearing loss doesn’t represent an emergency from a medical point of view, it is advisable to treat it proactively. If you notice one or more of the symptoms described here, you should book a free hearing assessment with a Triton Hearing audiologist or contact your ear nose and throat doctor. In around 50 percent of cases, normal hearing returns within 24 to 48 hours. It can generally be assumed that the lower the intensity of hearing loss, and the shorter the period, the more successful the treatment is likely to be.

Diagnosing sudden hearing loss

The doctor usually starts the by asking you a number questions. When did the hearing loss begin? What are the symptoms? Was the patient exposed to noise? Does the patient have a pre-existing condition (e.g. diabetes)? What medications are being taken? Is the patient stressed?
The ear is then examined visually using an otoscope to ensure that the hearing loss is not the result of a blocked ear canal or damaged eardrum. Other methods may be applied at the doctor’s discretion. Various hearing tests may be performed to test the patient’s sense of balance, and blood pressure is measured. None of these examinations are painful.

Can sudden hearing loss be prevented?

A healthy lifestyle is important. This involves reducing stress and nicotine, sticking to a healthy diet and doing sufficient exercise, as high blood fat levels can impede blood circulation.

Loud noises should be avoided however that can be hard in certain work environments. If you're susceptible to constant noise at work then suitable ear protection should be used. Having customised ear protection is the best way to help
If you have gradual onset hearing loss caused by noise at work then you may be eligible for fully funded hearing aids with ACC.

To find out, book your free hearing assessment with a Triton Hearing Audiologist on 0800 45 45 43.
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