Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) manifests as an abrupt and unexplained hearing impairment in one or both ears. It can manifest suddenly, usually within a span of 72 hours, causing considerable distress and interrupting daily activities. The purpose of this article is to delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with sudden sensorineural hearing loss, enabling readers to gain a comprehensive comprehension of this condition.

Understanding Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss:

a. Definition and Characteristics:

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss refers to a rapid-onset loss of hearing caused by damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve pathways. It is typically unexplained, as no obvious cause can be identified in many cases. The condition can affect individuals of all ages, but it is more commonly observed in adults between the ages of 30 and 60.

b. Prevalence and Risk Factors:

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is relatively rare, occurring in approximately 5 to 20 people per 100,000 each year. Various factors can increase the risk of developing SSNHL, including a history of viral infections, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune conditions, exposure to loud noise, smoking, and certain medications.

Causes of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss:

a. Viral Infections:

Viral infections, such as those caused by the herpes simplex or varicella-zoster viruses, are believed to be a leading cause of sudden sensorineural hearing loss. These infections can result in inflammation and damage to the inner ear structures responsible for hearing.

b. Vascular Disorders:

Vascular disorders that affect blood flow to the inner ear, such as ischemic stroke, thrombosis, or vasospasm, can lead to sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Insufficient blood supply to the cochlea can cause tissue damage and subsequent hearing loss.

c. Autoimmune Conditions:

Certain autoimmune disorders, including autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED), can cause sudden sensorineural hearing loss. In AIED, body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the inner ear structures, leading to hearing loss.

Identifying the Symptoms:

a. Hearing Loss Suddenly:

The hallmark symptom of sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a rapid and unexplained decline in hearing ability, often occurring within hours or a few days. The loss of hearing is usually significant, ranging from mild to profound.

b. Tinnitus:

Tinnitus, or the perception of ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the affected ear, is another common symptom of sudden sensorineural hearing loss. The harshness of tinnitus can be diverse for different people.

Seeking Medical Attention:

a. Importance of Prompt Evaluation:

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss requires immediate medical attention. Early evaluation and treatment increase the likelihood of a successful outcome and minimize the risk of permanent hearing loss.

b. Diagnostic Procedures:

Medical professionals may conduct various tests to diagnose sudden sensorineural hearing loss, including pure-tone audiometry, speech audiometry, and imaging studies like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans.

Treatment Options:

a. Oral Steroids:

The primary treatment for sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a short course of oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone. Steroids help reduce inflammation and minimize damage to the inner ear structures.

b. Intratympanic Steroid Injections:

In cases where oral steroids are not well-tolerated or contraindicated, corticosteroids can be delivered directly into the middle ear through intratympanic injections. This method allows for higher concentrations of steroids to reach the inner ear.


Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a distressing condition characterized by a sudden and unexplained decline in hearing. Prompt medical evaluation and appropriate treatment are crucial to increase the chances of recovery. Understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and exploring available treatment options can help individuals affected by sudden sensorineural hearing loss navigate their journey toward improved hearing and quality of life. If you experience sudden hearing loss, consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.