March 2, 2023

Article by: Ms. Christy Crasta

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) is generally known as sudden deafness. It is a condition in which there is an unexplained loss of hearing that occurs abruptly or over a span of 72 hrs. It can range from a slight or complete loss in the ability of hearing.

SSNHL commonly affects only one ear and happens due to some damage in the sensory structures of the inner ear, and not due to any blockage of the ear due to ear wax or ear infections.

SSNHL can occur at any age but most commonly affects individuals between 40 to 60 years old. It is estimated that SSNHL affects 5 to 30 per 100,000 people every year.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a medical urgency.

Timely identification and treatment of SSNHL are crucial. Prompt treatment increases the chances of regaining the lost hearing. Ignorance or any delay in the treatment can lead to hearing loss being permanent. Thus, one should visit the closest ENT or an audiologist immediately if they experience one or more of the following symptoms:

• Unexpected and Sudden loss of hearing ability or loss over a span of 72 hrs.
• An abrupt loss of hearing upon waking up in the morning.
• A loud “pop” just before hearing disappears.
• Sudden Hearing loss frequently accompanied by:
o Ringing in the ears known as Tinnitus.
o A Sensation of ear fullness.
o An associated feeling of Imbalance or vertigo.
• Sudden difficulty in following conversation in a group, noisy or crowded areas.
• Muffled or reduced hearing quality.

What should you do if you experience Sudden hearing loss?

Visit the nearest ENT or Audiologist as soon as the symptoms are noticed. 

Many ignore the symptoms and delay visiting the doctor, thinking it is something that can get better over time.

However, it is vital for the condition to be diagnosed and for the treatment to begin instantly. The first few days are the “golden period” of treatment. Treatment within the first 48hrs may increase the probability of complete recovery of the lost hearing ability. Earlier the treatment greater the chances of recovery of hearing. If there is a delayed treatment (after few days to two weeks of the loss) the recovery of hearing may be partial, or no recovery can be seen.

How will the condition be identified?

To identify the condition your physician will take a detailed history of the problem and medical history, as they would have to rule out hearing loss due to any other reasons such as ear infections or ear wax.

You would be asked to visit an audiologist for a Pure tone audiometry test which will confirm the presence and the severity of hearing loss.

It will also help in identifying if the hearing loss is due to any outer ear or middle ear infections or due to damage in the sensory structure of the inner ear which is essential for the diagnosis of SSNHL.

The Physician might also ask for an MRI to rule out the presence of any tumors. 

How you would be treated for SSNHL:

The treatment of SSNHL usually includes a course of steroids which will be prescribed to you by the ENT. After completion of this course, you will have to test your hearing again to note the recovery. 

The hearing loss may not resolve in some cases even after immediate treatment. No recovery of hearing even after six months would mean that the hearing loss is permanent. Thus, a monthly follow-up of upto six months is necessary to monitor the recovery.

 If the hearing loss persists even six months post the incident the treatment option would be the usage of hearing aids and assistive listening devices for a better quality of life.

 In conclusion, Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is reversible. Hence, if you or your friends and family ever experience an unexplained and rapid loss of hearing, visit the doctor or an audiologist without delay. Ignorance of the problem can have permanent effect on your hearing!

You can visit the Speech and Hearing OPD at Father Muller Medical College Hospital for any ear or hearing related question.
Or contact us at:
Ph. No: 0824-2238295
OPD timings:
8:30am – 12:30pm
1:30pm – 4:30pm