Sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency that annually affects about 4,000 people in the United States (Gianoli and Lee, 2001). Sudden hearing loss happens in a specific way: It generally affects only one ear and occurs within a period of 72 hours. It is frequently accompanied by tinnitus (ringing in the ear), vertigo, or a combination. The hearing loss may be partial or complete.
Sudden hearing loss is usually idiopathic, meaning it may not have a detectible cause. Some possible causes include inner ear virus, autoimmune disorder, trauma, or certain medications (Hughes et al, 1996). While the hearing loss could be caused by something easily treatable, such as wax or an ear infection, it is important to quickly seek medical attention. When medical attention is received within 48 hours, a person has the best chance of recovering. However, there is no guarantee hearing will partially or completely recover. Oral or injected steroids are commonly used to treat sudden hearing loss, but actual treatment will be determined by the physician.
If hearing loss remains, hearing devices may be beneficial. A traditional hearing aid worn on the ear that experienced sudden hearing loss can be useful when enough hearing has been preserved. A CROS system can be worn when the hearing loss is too severe for a conventional hearing aid. A CROS has a receiving device (worn on the better ear) and a transmitting device (worn on the ear with hearing loss), and it serves to create awareness of sound for the weaker ear. A surgically implantable device, such as a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) or cochlear implant, may also be an option. The audiologist will explain which alternatives are most appropriate for each individual.