Suddenly not being able to hear — whether in one ear or both — is frightening and something requiring immediate medical attention.

Sudden hearing loss (SHL) is not unheard of. It’s not something that the medical community fully understands, but it is something that is common enough.

Bouts of SHL can happen in one ear, both ears, be temporary, or — unfortunately — be a permanent “new reality.” This is why seeking out professional advice at the earliest opportunity is crucial.

There are a number of theories about possible causes of SHL:

  • Time-delayed repercussions of viral or middle ear infections.
  • The consequence of cardiovascular issues like diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, blood clots, and arteriosclerosis.
  • The result of spinal injuries such as whiplash.
  • Stress-related changes to the body’s blood circulation (most cases of SHL present a corresponding reduction in blood flow).

An SHL event usually does not include any warning signs like an earache, is often in only one ear, and is not a result of exposure to loud noise (not that such exposure won’t cause hearing loss — only that the cause is obvious in such cases).

Numbness around the ear, pressure changes within the ear, dizziness, and a ringing or other constant sound — known as tinnitus — often coincides with SHL.

A medical professional will immediately go down the checklist of the most common treatments for SHL. The first is to encourage blood circulation to the ear, which will sometimes solve the problem quickly.

If that does not work diagnostic tests are undertaken — including MRIs and ear microscopy — to see if an obvious cause can be ascertained. Blood tests may also be needed.

The crucial point is to take an SHL event seriously. It should be treated as a medical emergency and could be a harbinger of even more profound underlying health issues.