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Sudden hearing loss is an event in which hearing rapidly decreases over a period of 72 hours or less. Fortunately, this condition typically affects only one ear. The loss may occur due head trauma, acoustic neuroma, Meniere’s disease, or otic barotrauma (pressure induced trauma to the ear, such as scuba diving). Most often however, a cause is not readily identifiable. The sudden onset may be associated with tinnitus and vertigo. When no cause is identified, it is referred to as idiopathic. It is felt that idiopathic sudden hearing loss may be secondary to a virus, autoimmune reaction to the inner ear or a situation in which the blood vessels go into spasm and the inner ear is deprived of its oxygen supply.

When a patient is seen for sudden hearing loss, an audiogram is performed to determine the degree of hearing loss. An MRI is usually obtained to rule out any known causes. Blood tests may also be obtained to rule out any metabolic causes.

Idiopathic sudden hearing loss however, is the most common situation. When this occurs the patient is begun on steroids. This may be either in the form of oral steroids or direct injection of the steroid through the eardrum into the middle ear in effort to have the medication directly absorbed into the inner ear.

The sooner an individual is seen with sudden hearing loss, the better the chance for recovery of hearing. Unfortunately however, in spite of all efforts, hearing may fail to improve. In these circumstances, hearing aid amplification or surgical correction with either Cochlear Implantation or Bone Anchored Hearing Aid may be indicated.