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Sudden Hearing Loss Treatment: Know Your Options

By Kyle Kirkland
Reviewed by Jordan Glicksman, MD, FRCSC, MPH on January 13, 2021
Sudden hearing loss can happen to anyone. Here’s how you can treat it before it's too late.

Hearing loss is, in many cases, a natural consequence of aging. But sudden hearing loss, also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), can occur in anyone. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, some potential causes of SSHL include head trauma, infection, and autoimmune diseases. Here are some options for sudden hearing loss treatment. 

Find the Cause

“The most important thing with sudden hearing loss is to establish the cause,” Edmund Farrar, MD, and founder of the hearing health organization Oto Health tells WebMD Connect to Care.

This is often something reversible, and the treatment can be quite simple. For example, earwax could cause sudden hearing loss, and can be treated with olive oil drops and then ear syringing (where warm water is squirted into the ear),” Farrar says. In more difficult cases a microscope and specialized tools might be required. More complicated cases of ear wax requiring this equipment are typically taken care of by Ear, Nose and Throat Doctors.

Steroids

“Corticosteroids [a type of steroid hormones] are the most common treatment for sudden [sensorineural] hearing loss because the cause is usually unknown and a more general approach works best at equipping the body to recover hearing,” Hope Lanter, AuD tells WebMD Connect to Care. “Steroids can be given orally or by injecting them through the eardrum and into the middle ear space where it can be absorbed into the inner ear,” Lanter says. 

Oral steroids can have side effects like an upset stomach or insomnia, while injected medical steroids don’t have any obvious side effects except the small amount of pain during the injection.

According to Lanter, this treatment needs to be done as close to the hearing loss as possible. “If the treatment is delayed more than about four weeks after the initial loss of hearing, permanent hearing loss is likely,” Lanter says. 

Surgery

If the cause of the hearing loss is determined to be a damaged eardrum, Farrar advises that surgery might be appropriate. “If a burst eardrum has caused the hearing loss, and if it does not heal in a few weeks, then your doctor might refer you to a specialist to discuss the possibility of a surgical repair,” Farrar says.

Lanter echos this statement and advises that if hearing does not return after initial treatment “hearing aids or cochlear implants may be indicated.”

The seriousness of hearing loss can vary, from struggling to hear conversations if there is background noise to not being able to hear anyone unless they are speaking loudly. Both Farrar and Lanter advise that, if you have concerns about hearing loss, to seek treatment immediately. Every day you delay, it increases the chance of temporary hearing loss becoming permanent.

Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed.

In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.