Sudden Onset Hearing Loss

Sudden onset hearing loss is a devastating condition in which the hearing decreases rapidly, sometimes in an instant and sometimes over the course of a couple of days. It is typically in one ear (although sometimes both are affected) and is usually accompanied by ringing in the ear (tinnitus). Often people also have severe vertigo (dizziness).

We often do not know what causes sudden-onset hearing loss. It can affect people of any age and of any health status.

Sudden onset hearing loss should be considered a medical emergency. It is important to seek IMMEDIATE medical attention, either through urgent care, the emergency room, or ideally, by an ear-nose-throat (ENT) physician.

Sudden onset hearing loss is usually treated with steroids, specifically prednisone. Prednisone is a drug that reduces inflammation, which may help the ear heal and restore hearing. However, prednisone cannot be taken by everyone. Your doctor will review your health history to make sure prednisone is safe for you. Be sure to inform your doctor if you have diabetes, as prednisone may raise your blood sugar. If you are prescribed prednisone, follow the instructions carefully. It is usually prescribed using a “taper-down” approach; it is important that you do not stop taking it suddenly.

You should also be referred to audiology for a hearing test and to an ENT for further evaluation. Typically, an ENT will recommend an MRI of your head to look at the inner structures of the ear for damage or abnormalities.

However, it is most important to receive prednisone as soon as possible, even if you must wait to see audiology or ENT.

Unfortunately, even with steroid therapy, some people do not fully regain their hearing and may need to consider using hearing aids.