Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss in One Ear. Quick 101

The causes of sudden hearing loss in one ear are varied. Anyone with sudden hearing loss in one ear or both ears should treat it as a medical emergency and immediately see a doctor. This is because sudden hearing loss could be a warning sign of potentially underlying conditions.

This article is not intended to offer a medical opinion on the subject of the causes of sudden hearing loss, but rather, to provide information.

This quick 101 summarizes a review of the plethora of some currently available information (83 documents) cross-referenced to articles from major contemporary medical organizations listed in the reference section below.

Interruptions in the Pathways of Sound Resulting in Hearing Loss

Sound received by your ear can be interrupted in three ways, with any of these potentially resulting in some form of hearing loss. While the scientific terms for these interruptions appear complicated, they can be easily explained.

  1. Conductive – The incoming sound is blocked from reaching the sensory structures for hearing in the inner ear.
  2. Sensorineural – The incoming sound does reach the inner ear, but for some reason or the other, it cannot be converted into nerve impulses and carried to the brain.
  3. Mixed – This involves possible combinations of both conductive and sensorineural pathways described above.
Causes Of Sudden Hearing Loss In One Ear

What Are the General Causes of Hearing Loss?

The commonest causes of hearing loss are accumulation of earwax, noise, age-related, and ear infections.

Noise louder than 85 decibels(dB) can cause hearing loss if exposure continues over a period of time (NIDCD 2018, Merck Manuals 2020). A previous article provides details ( The Best Hearing Aids for Seniors. Degrees of Hearing Loss)

The most treatable cause of hearing loss especially among older people is the accumulation of earwax in the ear passage. Ear infections are generally more common in children.

Hearing loss caused by noise may be gradual or sudden. When it is due to extreme noise exposure, it is referred to as acoustic trauma. This usually disappears within a day, unless there is damage to the eardrum, middle ear or inner ear or, it could result in ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

Aging, along with noise exposure (age-related cause) and genetic factors will limit your ability to hear the higher frequencies of sound more than the lower frequencies.

Other Causes: Additional less common causes of hearing loss are- injuries, tumors, autoimmune disorders, congenital disorders and drugs which can damage the ear (ototoxic drugs).

Some Terminology

As always, we will begin with brief explanations of some terms you will encounter in this article:

Tinnitus

Ringing in the ears usually caused by damage to the tiny sensory hairs in the inner ear.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing loss (SSHL)

This is an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing, usually in one ear, either at once or over several days (Hearing Loss Association of America – HLAA 2017).

People with SSHL often discover the hearing loss upon waking in the morning. This can be quite disconcerting!

Other people affected may first notice it when they try to use the deafened ear as in use of the phone (NIDCD 2018).

SSHL occurs because there is something wrong with the sensory organs of the inner ear.

Causes Of Sudden Hearing Loss In One Ear

SSHL can affect people of all ages, although it tends to occur mainly in those between the ages of 50 and 60s. In the United States there are about 66,000 new cases of SSHL per year (Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, August 2019 cited by the Harvard Medical School Health Publishing).

This number may be a low estimate since the condition tends to be under diagnosed because it is not viewed as a serious problem and medical care is usually not sought because of the belief it could be due to allergies, sinus infection or earwax blockage.

Most publications reviewed were of the opinion that such delays increase the risk of permanent hearing loss.

Vertigo

A false sensation of spinning or moving is a truly disconcerting experience. Your head feels light and you think you are about to fall down. Sitting down and closing your eyes for a few minutes is helpful.

Hearing Loss on One Side

Also called Single Sided Deafness (SSD) or Unilateral hearing loss (UHL) is a type of hearing impairment where there is normal hearing in one ear and impaired hearing in the other ear.

Do We Know What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?

Sudden hearing loss is moderate to severe hearing loss that develops over a few hours, or is noticed on awakening ( Merck Manuals March 2020).

Such hearing loss typically affects only one ear unless caused by drug use. Depending on the cause of sudden hearing loss, people may have other symptoms such as tinnitus, or vertigo. It is estimated that about 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 10,000 people each year develop sudden hearing loss.

Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss

There are 3 broad categories of causes of sudden hearing loss.

Unknown Causes

Only 10 % of people diagnosed with SSHL have an identifiable (NIDCD). Some just wake up to it. No cause can be found for most, although doctors have several theories. These include viral infections, autoimmune reaction or blockage of the small blood vessels of the inner ear or its nerves

A Defined and Obvious Event

There are generally four types of these events

  • Head injuryPills
  • Severe pressure changes which may occur with diving. It can occur less often by bearing down during weight lifting causing a hole to form between the middle and inner ear.
  • Use of drugs that have damaging side effects to the ears.
  • Infections during or immediately after acute illness.

An Underlying Disorder

These include tumor of the auditory nerve (acoustic neuroma), neurological disorders (multiple sclerosis), disorders of the inner ear (Meniere disease) or blood circulation problems such as blockage of a branch of the artery that goes to the center of the brain that manages balance.

What Should I Do?

You must treat ANY indication of sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency and seek medical care IMMEDIATELY. Why? There is usually only a very brief window to seek treatment before permanent damage is done.

Do not try to self medicate with cold or sinus medicine, cleaning your ears or using swimmer’s ear drops as these could worsen the situation. It is better to be safe than sorry!

Only A Doctor Can Recommend Treatment

Only a doctor can recommend treatment for sudden hearing loss after conducting several diagnostic tests.

The Best Hearing Aids for Seniors

Many doctors doctors may prescribe oral cortisone steroids. While these have been found to be helpful for some cases of sudden hearing loss, it is not a blanket remedy.

Only a thorough examination will identify the appropriate treatment to be administered on a case-by-case basis.

Have you or anyone you know experienced sudden hearing loss before? What type was it? Share your experience in the comment box below.

Some References

1. Sudden Deafness NIDCD Hearing and Balance (2018): https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/sudden-deafness

2. Sudden Deafness (2017). HLAA. https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/hearing-loss-basics/sudden-deafness/

3. Hearing Loss – Symptoms and Causes (2019). Mayo Clinic.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20373072

4. Lawrence R. Lustig (March 2020). Hearing Loss. Merck Manuals.https://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/home/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/hearing-loss-and-deafness/hearing-loss

5. Now hear this: Don’t ignore sudden hearing loss (Dec 2019). Harvard Medical Health Publishing.
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/now-hear-this-dont-ignore-sudden-hearing-los

6. Lawrence R. Lustig (March 2020). Sudden Hearing Loss. Merck Manuals https://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/home/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/hearing-loss-and-deafness/sudden-hearing-loss

22 thoughts on “Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss in One Ear. Quick 101”

  1. This article has been very helpful about sudden hearing loss, i work in a noisy environment and we normally go for audio check every six month in as much as we use personal protective hearing protections.
    but with this article i have learnt that sudden hearing loss is also possible. good job

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading this article Ibrahim. I’m glad I was able to provide some value.

      We live in a world where we have become accustomed to noise. Some of the normal everyday noises we experience are above the acceptable threshold of 85dB. I am happy that your employer provides you with PPE and regular audio checks.

      Ceci

      Reply
  2. Hello Cece I found your article on sudden ear loss very informative and helpful. I was surprised that build up of earwax is one of the causes but it makes sense.You have saved us a lot of time by presenting an article the way you have. I will definitely be coming back to this helpful website. Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Mark,

      Glad you found value in the article. The idea is certainly to save people time so that they don’t have to wade through the internet looking for bits and pieces of this information.

      Thanks for stopping by the website and I certainly look forward to you doing so again!

      Reply
  3. Hi Ceci,

    Thanks for this article, it’s very helpful!

    I’m in my mid-thirties, but I’ve suffered with single ear hearing loss throughout my life.

    My most common cause is excessive ear wax buildup – it’s a nuisance way of losing hearing because it’s such a gradual build-up that I often don’t notice it until all of a sudden I can’t hear anything. In the UK most doctor’s won’t treat ear wax build-up and I’ve had some very bad experiences with over the counter treatments. I have found increasing the fatty acids in my diet seems to help keep the wax a bit less dry making it easier for my body to clear naturally – but this is, of course, just anecdotal evidence (I now supplement with Omega 3, 6 and 9).

    I also took up a new sport around this time last year, paddleboarding. What I hadn’t realised, until the second time I ended up with single ear tinnitus, is the dangerous decibel level achieved when releasing the air from my inflatable paddleboard and me turning my head to avoid the air stream in the face – ear protection is now a must for this! It just makes so much sense now that I think about it!

    Thanks again for this article!

    Reply
  4. Hi Ceci and thank you for an informative article on which topic affects a lot of people in one way or another. I expect that the population that is growing up today will suffer more from hearing loss than before.
    I am myself suffering from tinnitus due to my profession as a helicopter pilot in the armed forces, but thank god it is not affecting me very much at the moment. But, it is definitively present all the time. I have also permanent damage to the right ear on one specific frequency, which i do not hear.

    The article is underlining serious causes to the sudden loss of hearing, which should be known by everybody. It is important information.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  5. Great article,I learnt a lot about hearing loss that was pretty foreign to me before.I now know that sudden hearing loss is a reality.thanks for the important info shared!

    Reply
  6. A very informative article on the subject, thank you! My Father has deafness in one ear after a mild stroke ue had a about 10 years ago. He has Tinnitus and Vertigo sometimes too, is there a treatment for this ?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear about the situation with your father Mohammed,

      I include a link to another article of mine on Tinnitus which you might find useful – https://metamorphosishub.com/how-to-stop-ringing-in-the-ears-why-the-ringing/. There are a couple of other articles you may also find useful.

      I myself suffer from tinnitus (as you will read in that article) and unfortunately, as I found during my research, there is no cure for it. There are however things you can do to manage it – such as avoiding those things that can trigger an increase in intensity. To do this will require careful monitoring for some time with a process of selective elimination. My triggers are stress, coffee and carbonated soda.

      I have suffered from vertigo a handful of times and my doctor related it to stress (possibly linked to my tinnitus), but as you know everyone is different.

      Has your father spoken to your doctor about his tinnitus and vertigo? I recommend you do, so they can help him with management. Some serious sufferers also use “white noise”

      Hope this helps and stay tuned for more upcoming articles.

      Ceci

      Reply
  7. Comprehensive article that broaden my knowledge on sudden hearing loss. I haven’t come across anyone in my circles with this yet, except my father in law who can’t hear properly in general due to old age. But sometimes he hears quite well and seems like he can hear better with low pitch. Any idea how best to improve communication?

    Reply
  8. Hearing loss sounds scary, particularly when I’ve had sinus issues and occasionally suffered from vertigo.

    I’m becoming more conscious of not using a headphone for long period. I hope that reduces the chance of losing my hearing ability.

    Thanks for the resource.

    Cheers,
    Kenny

    Reply
    • Hi Kenny Leee,

      You are making a really smart choice of not using your headphone for long periods. You may not immediately see the impact of the damage caused until you are geting on in years.

      You might also be surprised to learn that some everyday sounds we take for granted such as the lawn mower, movie theater, concerts, sports events etc are actually all above the acceptable threshold for noise. I was just as surprised myself. Check out the infographic player in my article to listen to these sounds and check out their decibels (loudness) – https://metamorphosishub.com/the-best-hearing-aids-for-seniors-5-degrees-of-hearing-loss/

      Ceci

      Reply
  9. Hi Ceci, A very interesting article, I was not aware that a person could just suddenly loose their hearing over night but will take note of this.What has just happened to me is that about 3 weeks ago I woke with Vertigo, what a terrible feeling, been to the doctor, not much help there. Now three weeks later it has just about gone. Do you any idea where it came from?
    Regards Barry

    Reply
    • Hello Barry,

      Vertigo is indeed a horrible feeling as you rightly deduced. That sickening sensation of everything around you spinning endlessly is something I have personally experienced a handful of times myself. My doctor told me it was caused by my stress at the time possibly linked to my tinnitus. Lying down and closing my eyes seemed to help until the sensation passed on.

      I am really amazed at the number of people who have left me comments about vertigo and I will most certainly conduct a deep dive research to better understand this for a future article. So, stay tuned.

      Thanks for visiting.
      Ceci

      Reply
  10. hello Ceci.,
    It is heartening to note that there are tried and tested methods to deal with deafness or hearing loss as we grow older. It is indeed a problem and I have noticed a lot of times that my Mom doesn’t seem to hear very well now, though I earlier thought that she was ignoring me.
    Thanks for this enlightening article.
    Love,
    Aps

    Reply
    • Yes, it is so true that hearing loss is usually not detected until sometimes significant damage may have been done. This is because we blame it on other things eg you thought your Mum was ignoring you. Please take her to the doctor for a checkup.

      Ceci

      Reply

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