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Sudden Hearing Loss

What is "sudden sensorineural hearing loss" (SSNHL)?

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a term used to describe a rapid drop in hearing within a short period of time. Many people notice the sudden hearing loss upon waking up in the morning, or when they go to use their telephone, but it may happen at any time during the day. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss may occur in both ears, but it is more common to occur in just one ear. The sudden drop in hearing may be accompanied by a “full feeling” in the ears, dizziness, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

There is potential for sudden hearing loss to be permanent, and it is therefore considered a medical emergency and requires immediate audiological and medical intervention. An individual who experiences sudden sensorineural hearing loss should call their audiologist or family doctor immediately. Many individuals do not seek medical intervention immediately, as they think the change in hearing is due to earwax, a cold, or allergies. However, delaying SSNHL diagnosis and treatment has the potential to decrease the effectiveness of the treatment.

Medical recommendations and treatment for SSNHL of unknown origin is typically a prescription of Corticosteroid and Antiviral agents. Corticosteroids are the primary anti-inflammatory medication used to treat SSNHL of unknown origin. Although the cause of sudden hearing loss is unknown, the corticosteroid will reduce inflammation of the auditory nerve.  Antiviral agents such as famciclovir and valacyclovir (Valtrex) are commonly recommended if the sudden hearing loss may have been a result of a virus.