Symptoms and causes

What is it?

Sudden deafness is a sudden deterioration of the auditory nerve (of the cochlea, in fact). This can indicate viral damage to the hair cells in the cochlea or it may indicate that the hair cells suffer from a temporary lack of oxygen, which may occur when a blood vessel is blocked off for a brief period.

The important thing to know is that these cause sudden deafness. It is, therefore, not a sign of a stroke (CVA), TIA or other neurological problem. It is also an isolated event.

Diagnosis and treatment

When should you see a physician?

When someone suddenly experiences a substantial decrease in their hearing, it may be something that is easily resolved, like a clump of earwax or fluid in the ear, but it may also be a sign of sudden deafness. Since we cannot ascertain this over the telephone, we recommend that anyone who has had sudden hearing loss schedule an urgent appointment with their GP or come see us.

Diagnosis

It is easy to differentiate between sudden deafness and earwax or fluid in the ear, for example, by looking in the ear (otoscopy) and by doing tuning fork tests.

We perform tests such as a hearing test, a blood draw, and an NMR. The chance that sudden deafness is caused by a bridge angle tumour does exist, but the chance is very small. These tests usually give a negative result in the majority of cases.

Treatment

We consider sudden deafness an emergency. When someone comes in during the first few days after the onset of deafness, the chances of recovering some hearing are greater than if the deafness has been going for weeks. Treatment is beneficial up until two months after the start of the sudden deafness.

If nothing is done, approximately one third of those who experience sudden deafness spontaneously recover their hearing over the course of days or weeks.

We treat sudden deafness with a short dose of cortisone and with treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen tank (one to two hours per day for five to ten days, usually at the St Jan General Hospital in Bruges or at the OLV Hospital in Aalst). These treatments raise the chances of recovery from 30% to approximately 50-60%.

In some cases, we inject cortisone directly through the eardrum and into the middle ear, where it then is absorbed by the cochlea. This is performed at the clinic (usually once a week, for three weeks).

Treatment centres and specialisations

Ear, nose, and throat diseases

Latest publication date: 05/02/2021
Supervising author: Dr Vermeiren Judith