What to do for a sudden change in your hearing

February 17, 2014 Swedish Health Team

close up of an ear


In this article:

  • It’s essential to seek medical assistance quickly for any dramatic change in hearing. 

  • Hearing loss can be caused by wax or fluid in the ear, but there may be more serious issues.

  • The physicians and audiologists at Swedish can help patients identify what is causing the change and start the appropriate treatment.

If you notice a drastic change in your hearing, don’t assume it's wax or fluid in your ear. Sudden hearing loss warrants seeking medical management immediately. 

Sudden changes in hearing can happen overnight or over a few days and can be accompanied by a loud ringing in the ear (tinnitus), dizziness/vertigo and/or fullness or pressure in the same ear. They typically occur in one ear, but in very rare cases can occur on both sides.

The National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports the incidence of sudden sensorineural hearing loss at approximately 4,000 new cases a year. “Sensorineural” is a term used to denote hearing loss that occurs at the cochlea, the organ for hearing.

There are many causes of sudden hearing loss, so it can be difficult to immediately identify exactly what caused it. Good air and blood flow are paramount to healthy cochlear function, and a change in hearing can occur due to the deprivation of either of these influences. Hearing loss can also be related to other problems, such as a virus that attacks the ear. The patient’s medical history may offer clues. 

Medical treatment can be helpful in many cases and usually involves steroid therapy, which can be given either orally or injected into the affected ear. Other treatments may include antibiotics, discontinuing a medication that may be contributing to the change in hearing or carbogen therapy, which aims to help increase oxygen and blood flow to the affected ear.

If you experience a change in your hearing, seek medical help sooner rather than later. The faster you get in to have your hearing checked and then treated, the better the chance for a full recovery of your hearing.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about hearing loss, contact Audiology Services at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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