You wake up one morning and something is different. Your ear feels plugged. Perhaps you switched ears on your phone and cannot hear out of one side. You need more volume to hear the news report. Your ear buds only work on one side. Is this normal? What could it be? What can be done?

Man in pain holding ear

Sudden loss of hearing affects at least one in 5000 Americans each year. Typically, only one ear is affected. In some cases, severe dizziness can happen or ear pain. Some cases are permanent. Some can be reversed or treated.

There are several possible causes for sudden hearing loss. The hearing system consists of the outer, middle and inner ear, as well as the brain. The problem can originate in any part of the ear. Common causes include:

  • Excessive ear wax or foreign body in the canal
  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Autoimmune response
  • Stroke or other blood flow problem
  • Head injury
  • Tumor (typically benign) on the hearing nerve
  • Fluid behind the ear drum

Consider the fact that some of the above causes are very easily treatable; normal hearing can be restored in the case of ear wax or certain infections. In cases where the loss is caused by the inner ear, treatment can often cause a reversal of loss. This problem must be treated promptly. Obviously, strokes or head injuries should be evaluated as soon as possible.

The first step is an examination. An audiologist or otolaryngologist can identify the type of hearing loss and get you on the path to recovery. DO NOT WAIT. Losses treatable by steroids must be treated promptly. Call immediately if you have lost hearing in one or both ears. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.