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What is sudden deafness / hearing loss?

Over 500,000 people in Nigeria live with the effects of sudden deafness and becoming profoundly or totally deaf in adult life. If this has happened to you, you should know that you are not alone. We are here to support you.

Sudden deafness is also known as ‘Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss’ (SSHL). This is the term used to describe a rapid loss of hearing between a split second and three days.

Sudden deafness is a medical emergency. Our advice is to go to A&E and ask for an emergency referral to ENT immediately.

In medical terms, if the hearing loss in one or both ears has suddenly dropped 30 decibels or more in three connected  frequencies, it is diagnosed as SSHL. (30 decibels is half as loud as normal speech.) One in ten people experiencing sudden deafness experience it in both ears simultaneously; in the majority of cases only one ear is affected.

One third of people experiencing sudden deafness notice it when they wake up in the morning. Others notice it when they try to use the telephone. Some people have reported a loud popping sound just before their hearing disappears, but others say their hearing just ‘faded away’. Some people experience vertigo (50%) and others tinnitus (70%).

What are the causes of sudden deafness?

Sudden deafness may sometimes be due to a known cause so it is important to insist on a thorough examination, tests and scans for the following:

  • meningitis

  • acoustic neuroma (benign tumour)

  • metastatic carcinoma

  • bacterial labyrinthitis

  • Meniere’s disease

  • multiple sclerosis

  • encephalitis

  • syphilis

  • autoimmune diseases

  • leukaemia


Doctors will also need to know any medication you are taking to see if you have taken some ototoxic drugs so take all medicines with you to the hospital.

In the majority of cases, no specific cause can be found and the incident is recorded as  ‘idiopathic’ (which simply means ‘no known cause’). This may cause great distress to the individual who is looking for answers, treatment and a solution. If this is the case, talking to others who have experienced sudden deafness or speaking with a counsellor may be helpful in dealing with the feelings associated with being told the incident is idiopathic.


What’s the treatment?

In terms of treatment for SSHL classed as idiopathic (i.e. no known cause), some patients are prescribed antibiotics, others steroid injections and some people are offered no treatment. Some people recover completely within the first few days without any treatment. This is called a ‘spontaneous recovery’. Others may find their hearing improves either partially or totally over a period of a few weeks. For some their hearing never recovers. If it is enduring/permanent, it may then be referred to as ‘Acquired Profound Hearing Loss’ (APHL). People with APHL may choose to describe themselves as ‘deafened’.

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