Sudden deafness

A sudden hearing loss occurs suddenly without any previous signs. Can you suddenly hear nothing or almost nothing in one ear? Does it feel like there is absorbent cotton or an earplug in your ear? Do you have pressure or persistent noises in your ear? Then it could be a sudden loss of hearing.

Overview: What is sudden deafness

Even if this is not an emergency from a medical point of view, you should contact a doctor within 48 hours, because time is of the essence. The earlier a hearing loss is treated therapeutically, the better. In Switzerland, 20 out of 100,000 people suffer a sudden hearing loss every year, and only one ear is affected at a time. The causes of sudden hearing loss are not clearly understood, and various triggers are discussed in the scientific community.

Research today assumes that the sensory cells in the inner ear are temporarily or permanently impaired in their function in the case of sudden hearing loss. These receptors, also known as hair cells, pick up sound waves, convert them into electrical signals and transmit them via the cochlea to the auditory nerve in the brain. The hair cells are supplied with nutrients via the finest vessels. If the blood flow is disturbed here, this can lead to sudden hearing loss. However, a number of other causes of sudden hearing loss are also being discussed, with researchers suspecting a link to cardiovascular disease or stress, inflammation or infection. In most cases, sudden hearing loss occurs later in life, after the age of 50. In children, sudden hearing loss is very rare.

Hearing loss: causes and risk factors

Science still does not have a clear explanation for sudden hearing loss. A number of factors are thought to be responsible for the fact that you suddenly hear little or nothing in one ear. On the one hand, it can be the blood and energy supply, the inner ear no longer receives enough nutrients, the symptoms described arise. Circulatory disorders can be caused by

  • Small blood clots or clumping blood platelets that block the blood vessels,
  • High blood pressure, high cholesterol,
  • Arteriosclerosis and circulatory disorders and
  • too much nicotine.

A whole range of other causes of sudden hearing loss are also suspected:

  • Viral infections (herpes, chickenpox)
  • previous middle ear infection, meningitis
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Diseases of the cervical spine
  • Noise and stress
  • Nerve damage
  • Diabetes
  • Tumor diseases

Stress in particular is discussed as a trigger for sudden hearing loss because it is assumed that adrenaline constricts the blood vessels, which can result in a poor supply to the hair cells. Damaged hair cells can also prevent sound from being transmitted. The inner ear can be impaired as a result of viral infections, and a tear in the round window membrane that connects the inner ear and middle ear can also be a possible cause. Numerous studies have been carried out on the subject of sudden hearing loss, but scientists still have unanswered questions and correlations have not been clearly established. However, risk factors include high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, smoking and chronic and acute stress.

Symptoms: Hearing loss

A sudden hearing loss is an event that can be very unsettling in its suddenness. Those affected suddenly hear less or nothing in one ear. They may also perceive double tones, in one ear at a normal pitch and in the other much higher or lower. Noticing this can also cause anxiety. In addition, a dull feeling of pressure in the ear can occur, tinnitus noises can accompany this, and in some cases those affected complain of dizziness. Those affected do not talk about pain, but in some cases a numb feeling in the auricle is described. Tinnitus-like noises such as whistling or ringing are sometimes also perceived.

Hearing loss – What you should do

If you notice any of the symptoms described, first of all keep calm. A sudden loss of hearing can also go away by itself within a short time. Experts then speak of a spontaneous remission (unexpected improvement or cure). A sudden loss of hearing is no longer medically classified as an acute emergency, but you should come to us within the next 48 hours. We will examine the ear carefully to rule out other possible causes of your sudden hearing loss. Once the diagnosis of sudden hearing loss has been established, we will discuss a therapy with you that will support the healing process of the ear.

However, you should be careful if the sudden loss of hearing is accompanied by other symptoms such as dizziness, visual disturbances, headaches, nausea or speech problems, because then it could be a stroke and that means immediate action and going to the nearest outpatient clinic straight away.

Hearing loss – diagnosis with us

In the event of a sudden loss of hearing, we will determine the exact cause of the hearing impairment. We will test the functionality of the ear and use an ear microscopy (otoscopy) to see what the ear canal looks like or whether the eardrum is damaged. We will measure the blood pressure so that we can draw conclusions. Diagnostics also include extensive hearing tests with a tuning fork or tone audiogram. Hearing loss can occur in different frequency ranges and have different degrees of severity:

Tympanometry can be used to test the ability of the eardrum to vibrate, which can provide information about disorders in the middle ear. An examination of the vestibular system, which, like the cochlea, is located in the inner ear, can also be part of the examination program. If the hearing loss does not recover despite adequate therapy, an MRI scan of the skull may also be indicated.

Hearing loss: prevention, course, prognosis

To a certain extent, you can prevent sudden deafness with a conscious lifestyle, as sudden deafness often occurs in connection with great stress. Therefore, strategies to better deal with conflicts and relaxation techniques to shut down the autonomic nervous system can help with prevention. And they should be used even more if you have already had a sudden hearing loss. In addition, you should avoid exposure to high levels of noise, as the fine hair cells are damaged by noise and this in turn can lead to sudden hearing loss. If you eat a balanced, low-fat diet, you will keep your blood lipid levels under control and not only prevent hearing loss. Smoking and nicotine damage the blood vessels, so you should avoid them. Regular exercise helps you to relax, supports your circulation and prevents high blood pressure at the same time.

In many cases, sudden hearing loss heals on its own. Medically, it is no longer seen as an emergency that needs to be treated immediately. The treatment depends on the extent of the hearing impairment, the accompanying symptoms, the history of the person affected and their subjective level of suffering. If the hearing loss is only slight, we will wait a certain amount of time in consultation with you to see if the problem resolves itself. Treatment is always recommended for severe hearing loss.

In individual cases, a permanent hearing impairment may remain, tinnitus may develop or the affected ear may become deaf.