Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This topic provides information about sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL).

What is a sudden sensorineural hearing loss?

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) is a hearing loss that occurs suddenly and rapidly within a day or a few days. It may also be known as sudden deafness. It affects the inner ear and/or auditory nerve.

Incidents of sudden sensorineural hearing loss are usually unilateral (one ear only).

SSHL is defined by a loss of 30 decibels of hearing or more at three consecutive frequencies occurring within three days or less.

What causes sudden sensorineural hearing loss?

Thought to be of viral origin, sudden sensorineural hearing loss is most often unexplained.

You have a greater chance of experiencing a sudden sensorineural hearing loss if you are between the ages of 40 to 60.

Other causes of a sudden sensorineural hearing loss may include:

  • Trauma to the head
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Circulation problems
  • Neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis
  • Infectious disease
  • Ototoxicity
  • Meniere's disease

In most cases, the cause of the SSHL is not identifiable.

What are the symptoms?

The most noticeable symptom of sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a sudden decline in hearing in one ear or both. Some people notice this when they wake up in the morning or when holding the telephone to the ear.

Other symptoms of SSHL include tinnitus in the affected ear, a feeling or pressure of the ear, and dizziness and/or severe imbalance. Some people also note hearing a “pop” in their ear right before the hearing declines.

How is sudden sensorineural hearing loss diagnosed?

To diagnose a sudden sensorineural hearing loss, a hearing evaluation needs to be performed. This will be used to determine whether the hearing loss is truly a sensorineural hearing loss or whether it is due to another cause such as wax build-up or otitis media. The hearing evaluation will also be used to determine the degree of impairment and monitor any change during the course of treatment.

An otolaryngologist may also recommend further tests to determine the underlying cause of the hearing loss. This may include blood tests and an MRI.

How is it treated?

Spontaneous recovery of hearing may occur in some cases, usually occurring within the first 2 weeks.

Treatment with corticosteroids have been shown to be the most effective at treating SSHL. These may be recommended to be taken orally or injected by the physician into the ear. The sooner it is treated once detected, the greater chance of recovery. For this reason, a sudden sensorineural hearing loss is considered a medical emergency, and treatment should occur by an otolaryngologist or otologist as soon as possible.

If an underlying problem such as infection or autoimmune disease is determined to be the cause of the SSHL, other medications may be recommended to manage these conditions.

A positive response to treatment will depend on how quickly it is treated, as well as the age of the patient. The younger the patient, the greater likelihood of full recovery.

If a sudden sensorineural hearing loss does not improve with medical treatment, the effects of the hearing loss can be managed with the use of hearing technology. This may include a traditional hearing aid, Soundbite hearing system, bone-anchored hearing aid, or a BICROS/CROS hearing aid if the ear is unaidable with traditional hearing aids.


Does sudden sensorineural hearing loss cause lasting problems?

A sudden sensorineural hearing loss that does not improve with treatment can affect communication and the ability to understand speech, especially in noisy environments. It can also cause balance issues, as well as permanent tinnitus. Hearing technology and rehabilitation can be used to help alleviate some of these long-term issues.

Lindsey Banks

Lindsey Banks is a graduate of the Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) program at the University of Florida. She uses her diverse experience in hearing healthcare and her passion for helping people to provide credible information to those with hearing loss who visit Everyday Hearing.