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What Causes Sudden Onset Hearing Loss?

Sudden Onset Hearing Loss or sudden deafness is a type of sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), that usually occurs in one ear, but can occur in both. Symptoms can come on quite dramatically within a few hours, or more subtly over 3 days. If you suddenly lose most or all of your hearing, get in touch with your doctor ASAP, particularly if the hearing loss is accompanied with dizziness, vertigo or tinnitus.

Common Causes of Sudden Onset Hearing Loss

Experts estimate that SSNHL impacts approx 1 in 5000 people each year, and our likelihood of experiencing it increases with age. In cases where individuals have consulted a doctor, tests will indicate a clear cause for the SSNHL in approximately 10-15% of cases. The most common causes are:

Viral Infections

One in four patients with SSNHL report suffering from an upper respiratory infection within the month prior to experiencing the hearing loss. Measles, mumps, meningitis and more have all also been linked to sudden onset hearing loss.

Autoimmune diseases

Those with diseases where the immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells – such as Cogan Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes type 1 etc, offten seem to suffer with SSNHL.


An event such as a head injury can affect the hair cells, eardrum or bones of the ear, causing Hearing Loss. Patients who experience SSNHL as the result of a trauma are likely to have partial or total recovery.


Benign or malignant tumors involving a nerve that connects the ear to the brain tend to cause hearing loss.

Blood circulation conditions

Hypertension, stroke and heart disease can all disrupt blood flow to the ear which impacts hearing ability. This can result in SSNHL.


The delicate sensory cells of the inner ear can be damaged by exposure to chemicals.  A long list of prescription drugs and chronic abuse of painkillers may cause sudden hearing loss. Insecticides such as melathion and methoxychlor have been associated with sudden hearing loss in both ears (binaural sudden hearing loss).

Inner ear disorders

Labyrinthitis and Ménière’s disease symptoms include hearing loss that comes on suddenly.

Interesting Facts about Sudden Onset Hearing Loss

  • Most cases affect one side only – in 55% of cases this is the left ear.
  • Only 2% of cases affect both ears.
  • There is an even spread of suffers between men and women.
  • 70% of SSNHL patients also suffer with tinnitus.
  • 50% suffer from vertigo.
  • Sudden hearing loss symptoms often get dismissed, due to allergies or colds.
  • In about 50% of cases, hearing can return to normal within 2 weeks.

Those who visit a specialist have an 85% chance of recovering at least some of their hearing. The sooner treatment is started the better. Even in cases where sensorineural hearing loss becomes permanent, there may be treatment options available. If you believe your hearing has changed, we can discuss any concerns you have. Call us toll free on 1-877-499-4327 or click here to request an appointment online.

We are hearing experts.

Audiology Associates has provided hearing care since 1972. We offer general audiology services for all ages, with an emphasis in amplification and operative monitoring. Our practice is the oldest and most trusted audiology and hearing aid practice in Colorado.