Sudden Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know

Even though the name implies it, sudden hearing loss doesn’t always happen all at once. You usually get it in just one ear. You may not lose your hearing completely.

If you think you might have it, don’t ignore it and just hope it gets better. Allergies, earwax buildup, and sinus infections can cause hearing loss.  But it may also be a sign of a more serious medical condition.

Sometimes hearing returns on its own. But usually the sooner you get treatment, the better the outcome.

You should see your doctor right away.

What Does Sudden Hearing Loss Feel Like?

You may lose your hearing all at once. Or it may take a few days to develop. In general, the condition involves a loss of hearing that happens over 72 hours or less.

Nine out of 10 people lose hearing in one ear. You may still hear some sounds out of the affected ear, but they’ll be softer. For example, a normal speaking voice may sound like a whisper.

Some people first notice hearing loss when they try to talk on the phone with the affected ear. Others hear a loud “pop” right before their hearing goes away.

More symptoms often happen. Dizziness and ringing in the ears are common. You may also feel pressure in your ear.

Causes

Doctors often don’t know what causes sudden hearing loss. 

Common causes include:

  • Ear wax or small objects block the ear canal
  • An autoimmune disease
  • Diseases caused by bacteria or viruses
  • A head injury
  • Hearing a sudden, very loud noise
  • Side effects of certain medicines

Hearing loss may also be a symptom of a more serious condition, like a stroke or meningitis. These conditions usually have other symptoms, too.

How It's Diagnosed

A doctor may give you a hearing test where you listen to different tones. Looking in your ear can reveal problems, like too much wax, or fluid in the ear canal or behind the ear drum.

You may also get balance tests, an MRI, or a blood test.

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Treatments

Corticosteroids are the most common treatment for sudden hearing loss. They can reduce swelling, fight inflammation, and help your body heal itself.

Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid pills. Or you may get a shot directly into your ear.

If your doctor finds an underlying cause of your hearing loss, they may be able to treat that condition. Ear infections, for example, are often treated with antibiotics.

What to Do if You Lose Your Hearing

Get medical care ASAP if it happens suddenly or over a few days. There’s no way for you to tell if it’s due to something simple, like allergies, or something more serious. Early treatment improves your chance of regaining more of your hearing.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brandon Isaacson, MD on August 30, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health: “Sudden Deafness.”
Stachler, R. Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, March 2012.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: “Causes of Hearing Loss in Adults.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Questions and Answers about Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, and Revatio: Possible Sudden Hearing Loss.”

National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health: “What Do I Do If I Think I Have a Hearing Loss?”

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