Sudden deafness refers to any rapid loss of hearing. The loss can occur immediately or over a few days in one or both ears. This affliction is also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) and is a serious medical condition often overlooked because sufferers attribute the loss to something benign such as ear wax buildup or an allergy. However, SSHL is serious and should be treated immediately.
Sudden deafness is often complex, with many cases have no identifiable cause. The random nature of the problem, coupled with the fact that many people recover their hearing as quickly as they lost it, make diagnosis difficult. However, some known causes include:
- Circulation system problems
- Neurologic diseases and disorders
- Head trauma
- Tumor on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain
- Autoimmune diseases (i.e., Cogan’s syndrome)
- Disorders of the inner ear (i.e., Ménière’s disease)
- Ototoxic drug reactions
- Infectious diseases
Effective treatment requires proper understanding of the cause of the deafness. Most doctors use a pure tone audiometric test to diagnose SSHL and, ultimately, determine the cause of the deafness. In cases where the cause of the sudden deafness remains obscure, many patients are prescribed corticosteroids. Steroids work by reducing inflammation, decreasing swelling, and helping the body fight illness. If a specific cause is uncovered, then appropriate medical responses can be made. For example, if hearing loss is caused by an infection, antibiotics to clear the infection will be prescribed.
Since sudden deafness is little understood, it is hoped the further research into blood circulation, inflammation, and the function of the inner ear will shed light on this mystery.