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What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?

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Updated February 12, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Sudden hearing loss is considered as such if it occurs in 1 to 3 days, and the experience can be quite worrisome. It can occur in one or both ears and is often accompanied by tinnitus.

Causes of sudden hearing loss include:

  • trauma, such as head injuries or damage to the ear drum caused by a foreign object, an extremely loud noise or ear surgery
  • barotrauma
  • certain medications, such as gentamicin
  • infections
  • neurologic disorders
  • Meniere's disease
  • a mass of tissue, such as a tumor that is growing very quickly (rare)
  • toxic substances such as snake venom (rare)

In a fair number of cases, the cause of sudden hearing loss cannot be identified.

What to Do if You Experience Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden hearing loss should be treated seriously. The sooner you get in to see a doctor, the more likely you are to regain your hearing.

It is best to see a doctor who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose and throat (also called an ENT specialist or otoloargynologist). You can ask your primary doctor for a referral, or find one near you by searching UCompare HealthCare.

The treatment for sudden hearing loss varies according to cause. In the case of a ruptured ear drum, the ear may heal on its own. If hearing loss is related to a medication, your doctor will likely tell you to discontinue its use. Infections often require antibiotics.

There is no one treatment that is standard for rapid hearing loss.

Sources:

Deafness Research UK. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Accessed: February 10, 2010 from http://www.deafnessresearch.org.uk/Sudden%20sensorineural%20hearing%20loss+1627.twl

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Sudden Deafness. Accessed: February 10, 2010 from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/sudden.asp

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