Sudden hearing loss in one ear
Sudden hearing loss in one ear or unilateral hearing loss is a rapid loss of hearing either abruptly or over a few hours or days. It occurs in one ear only, with the other ear being at a normal hearing level. Sudden hearing loss can be sensorineural (damage to the inner ear or along the nerve of hearing) or conductive (a problem in the middle ear such as otosclerosis) in nature. The type and severity of the hearing loss determine the treatment solutions available.
Sudden hearing loss occurs without any warning. You may notice its onset by a “pop” in one ear before the hearing disappears. It may only be apparent when you try to use the phone on the affected ear. Some people wake up and realize they can no longer hear well in one ear. Typically, the earliest sign of sudden hearing loss is the ear pressure followed by a ringing noise (tinnitus) and/or dizziness (vertigo). Pain in one ear is not frequent, but it can be a sign of an ear infection that can lead to hearing loss.
The exact cause of sudden hearing loss is unknown. The possible causes of the hearing loss however include viral infections, head trauma, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, disorders of the inner ear such as Ménières disease, or autoimmune diseases. Although many medical disorders affecting the ear can cause sudden hearing loss, only around 10% of people diagnosed with sudden hearing loss have a known cause.
Some sudden hearing loss causes are temporary such as ear infections with fluid buildup or earwax buildup. However, in most cases, reasons for sudden hearing loss are difficult to determine.
Sudden hearing loss can be complex to treat since it may be tricky to identify the exact cause of hearing loss. If you are diagnosed with sudden impairment in one ear, you will probably need additional tests to uncover the primary reason for your unforeseen hearing loss. These tests may include MRI and balance tests. If hearing loss is temporary, it can go away by itself, or it can be reversed by medical treatment. Left untreated, it can lead to permanent impairment. For those whose hearing loss becomes permanent, hearing aids and cochlear implants are viable options.
Other treatment solutions may include surgery, antibiotics to treat infection, or steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling. The full hearing recovery is lesser for people whose sudden hearing loss couples with vertigo (dizziness). An audiogram is required to diagnose a hearing loss and assess the degree and severity of the hearing loss.
Frequently asked questions
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it’s against federal law to discriminate against people with disabilities, which include hearing loss. A hearing loss will not automatically be classified as a disability unless specific criteria are met, and a person is no longer able to work. With this in mind, a hearing loss in one ear will not be categorized as a disability under the ADA.
Sudden hearing loss is unilateral (one ear). People with sudden hearing loss in one ear often discover the hearing loss upon waking up in the morning. Others notice a loud, disturbing “pop” just before their hearing disappears. Experts estimate that sudden hearing loss strikes one person per 5,000 every year, mostly adults in their 40s and 50s. But the number of cases could be much higher because the condition often goes undiagnosed.
There are two types of sudden hearing loss: conductive and sensorineural. Sudden conductive hearing loss in one ear is associated as being temporary. Reasons for hearing loss are short-lived, such as a buildup of ear wax, fluid buildup after cold, or after swimming. On the contrary, sudden sensorineural hearing loss tends to be more permanent. However, the initial symptoms for both types can appear the same, but people often don’t take it seriously and wait too long to get treated. Many people see hearing loss as a normal part of aging. Only about 14% of adult Americans with hearing loss have hearing aids, even though hearing loss can be successfully treated.
If you require a hearing aid, the latest research shows you shouldn’t delay wearing one because your memory might depend on the device.