Hearing loss is often just seen as an inability to hear sounds, but there is actually a ton of variation in how hearing loss presents itself. Hearing loss can differ in its severity, the types of sounds that are unable to be heard, symptoms, and how quickly it sets in.
The most common presentation of hearing loss tends to occur slowly over time and affects both ears. This usually occurs in the 40s to 50s, or even later. While this is the most common, some individuals may experience sudden single-sided hearing loss.
Below is a closer look at sudden hearing loss and single-sided hearing loss and how they can occur together as well as the potential causes of each.
Sudden Hearing Loss
Sudden hearing loss is a form of hearing loss that presents quickly and noticeably when compared to normal hearing loss. Gradual decline in hearing is normal and often associated with aging. However, a sudden loss of hearing could warrant some concern.
Here is a closer look at sudden hearing loss and the potential underlying cause. While this information won't diagnose your specific issue, it can be helpful to learn about the potential causes. If you experience sudden hearing loss, you should seek the expertise of a doctor to rule out any potentially dangerous underlying causes and receive a diagnosis.
Auditory Nerve Issue
One potential cause of sudden hearing loss is if the auditory nerve becomes compressed. The auditory nerve is the part of the ear that carries the signal from the ear to the brain. If the nerve becomes compressed or damaged, it can decrease the signals that are able to reach the brain and subsequently reduce the range of hearing.
Because the auditory nerve acts as a highway of information from the ear, any compression or damage to the nerve can result in a noticeable and abrupt loss of hearing.
The eardrum is a thin membrane that is found at the end of the ear canal; it is what moves in response to sound. A perforated eardrum occurs when the eardrum tears. With a hole in the eardrum, it is not as effective at conducting sound. This could result in sudden hearing loss.
Sudden hearing loss in both ears due to an eardrum perforation is likely caused by an extremely loud sound, trauma, or sudden change in pressure. An instance that could lead to both eardrums rupturing could be something like scuba diving. If not careful, scuba diving and similar activities could introduce extreme pressures to the ears.
At some point or another, we all get sick. Whether that be the flu or the common cold, you have most likely come across some infections in your lifetime. While many infections are either fought off by the immune system or effectively treated with medication, there are some infections that could cause lasting damage.
Some forms of unidentifiable sudden hearing loss are thought to occur as a result of an infection. While quite rare, there is the possibility that a virus could make its way to the components of the ear and cause lasting and sudden sensorineural hearing damage. One example of this is the rare complication of COVID-induced hearing loss.
A sample of illnesses that can cause sudden deafness or hearing loss in general are mumps, measles, and rubella. Vaccines can help your body fight illness and prevent these diseases in general. Sometimes allergies or a sinus infection can cause hearing loss as well.
Single-Sided Hearing Loss
Many people associate hearing loss to be a general loss of hearing in both ears but a difference in the hearing ability of your ears is perfectly normal.
Many people who haven’t even seen an audiologist to diagnose their hearing loss tend to self-identify which ear is their “good ear.” Then, they tend to direct that ear towards whatever it is that they are trying to listen to.
Below is a look at some potential causes of single-sided hearing loss and what can be done about them.
Cotton Swab Puncture
Cotton swabs have wrongly been utilized by many people for decades as a means of cleaning their ears. For the most part, the ears are able to expel ear wax all on their own. Using a cotton swab can actually cause earwax buildup by pushing earwax deeper into the ear.
In addition to cotton swabs being unnecessary, they can also be dangerous. The small size and blind use of cotton swabs for the ears could lead to eardrum perforation and even more physical damage to the ear. Cotton swabs injuries tend to cause single-sided hearing loss since most people stop after hurting one of their ears.
An earache is an ear infection typically caused by bacteria or the accumulation of fluid. One of the more common types of ear infections is a middle ear infection. With a middle ear infection, there is a chance that the middle ear space known as the tympanic cavity fills up with fluid.
This is known as otitis media with effusion and can reduce your ability to hear out of one ear. The sound you are able to hear will typically be muffled and almost sound as if you were underwater. Luckily if treated in a reasonable amount of time hearing, can be restored.
Infection of both ears could occur, but earaches tend to be single-sided and cause temporary hearing loss in that ear.
Unilateral Sudden Hearing Loss
Both sudden and single-sided hearing loss can occur simultaneously in the form of hearing loss known as acute unilateral hearing loss. This form of hearing loss is not particularly common. Yet, it is critical to be aware of it and seek care if you experience a sudden loss of hearing in one ear.
Read on for a closer look at this unique form of hearing loss and the things that can cause it.
Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, also known as SSNHL, is a condition in which an individual has a sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss is a form of hearing loss that is caused by an issue with the inner ear, auditory nerve, or auditory cortex of the brain. This inner ear disorder must lose at least 30 decibels in a minimum of three connected frequencies in the span of 72 hours.
SSNHL can be lasting, or it can even be fleeting and go away as quickly as it came. A vast majority of SSNHL occurs without a true identifiable cause. The idiopathic nature of SSNHL makes it a difficult form of hearing loss to manage and deal with.
Blood tests, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), and balance tests may be used to diagnose SSNHL or similar hearing-related conditions. Common treatments may be steroids (mainly corticosteroids) in the case of an infection.
Additional treatments may be medications that can help treat an autoimmune condition that may have caused the hearing loss. Neurologic diseases, blood circulation problems, and disorders of the inner ear (like Ménière’s disease) may all be a cause.
Another potential cause of acute unilateral hearing loss is an acoustic neuroma. An acoustic neuroma is a relatively rare condition and it is caused by the growth of a non-cancerous tumor on or around the structures of the ear.
An acoustic neuroma has the ability to cause hearing loss by pinching the auditory nerve or impeding the inner ear in some capacity. Tumors normally take some time to grow.
As such, a large percentage of acoustic neuroma cases tend to cause gradual hearing loss and tinnitus. While this is the case a majority of the time, it is estimated that about 5% of acoustic neuroma patients exhibit acute unilateral hearing loss.
How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
While a sudden loss of hearing in one ear tends to be painfully obvious, the exact cause and extent of hearing loss can be harder to figure out. This is where the diagnostic tools and an audiologist can come in handy.
Learn how hearing loss is diagnosed and how hearing loss is quantified.
The first tool that an audiologist has in their arsenal is a device known as an otoscope. An otoscope is essentially a specialized magnifying glass that allows them to visualize your ear canal and eardrum.
This tends to be the first thing an audiologist does. They want to ensure the eardrum is intact and see if there is any earwax buildup that could be impacting your hearing.
Pure Tone Audiometry
The most useful diagnostic tool that an audiologist has at their disposal is an audiogram. The test consists of headphones and a device that allows the audiologist to play different tones of sound at different volumes.
You wear the headphones and indicate each time you are able to hear the sound. Each ear is tested separately. By the end of the test, they have a nice graph that illustrates your degree of hearing loss per ear.
Based upon the results of the audiogram, they can prescribe your hearing aids. While this can be convenient, there are a number of options when it comes to hearing aids. Shopping around can save you money and give you a great product at a fraction of the price, such as the Audien EV1.
Act Quickly With Sudden Hearing Loss
Sudden hearing loss is something that you should definitely get checked out. There are a number of conditions that could cause it, including an acoustic neuroma or SSNH. With these causes getting treatment sooner rather than later can make a huge difference in your ability to hear in the long term.
Otitis media with effusion | MedlinePlus
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss in adults: Evaluation and management | UpToDate
Acoustic Neuroma: Symptoms | Johns Hopkins
Ruptured eardrum (perforated eardrum) - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic