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Transcript: Sudden-onset hearing loss

[White text on black background reads: Sudden-Onset Hearing Loss. Under the text is the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division logo. Xavier Arana, a Deaf Latino, is on the right side of the screen, wearing glasses and a black button-down shirt.]

SSHL is a specific form of adult-onset hearing loss that occurs with little or no warning, usually when the delicate structures of the inner ear are permanently damaged in some way. In many cases, only one ear is affected. 

SSHL progresses rapidly. In just hours, or over a few days, a person with sudden onset hearing loss may notice varying degrees of hearing loss in the affected ear or ears. 

Although sudden hearing loss can happen at any age, SSHL most often affects adults in their late 40s and early 50s. It is relatively rare, affecting between one and six people out of 5,000. 

Only about 10% of diagnosed cases can be traced to a specific cause such as an infection, head trauma, exposure to certain medications, or disease. 

You should seek medical assistance immediately if you, or someone you know, experiences sudden hearing loss. If treatment is delayed, it is likely that your hearing loss will remain permanent. It can take weeks, even months, before you learn if you will regain all or part of your hearing. 

The most common treatment is for SSHL is corticosteroids, but the doctor may prescribe other medication as needed. 

What’s Next? 

If your sudden hearing loss does not respond to treatment, ENT may recommend a hearing aid or cochlear implant. You will also need additional technology and communication strategies to communicate effectively with others at home, at work and out in the community. 

It is normal to feel disoriented and frightened if you experience a sudden hearing loss. Many people find it helpful to work with a qualified mental health professional who is knowledgeable in hearing loss. Family members are also impacted and may benefit from professional support. The DHHSD Mental Health & Referrals team can help you find qualified mental health resources. 

Fortunately, home modifications, smart home technology, captioning, and a range of assistive devices are available to help to you live safely and independently. Check out the Home modification checklist and other resources in the Assistive Technology section for tips and suggestions for staying safe at home and in the community. 

DHHSD staff can help you identify and demonstrate devices that you may find useful. We can also suggest communication strategies. 

Family members, friends, coworkers and other important people in your life can help by learning how you are impacted by your hearing loss. They can also help you improve communication by working with you to come up with communication strategies. 

Self-advocacy is a critical skill. People who lose their hearing as adults aren’t used to asking for help. You can learn more about self-advocacy and communication access in the Communication Access section of this website. 

We’re here to help you. 

This section of the website contains more information and resources on sudden-onset hearing loss. 

Select the Contact Us button on the website to connect with a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Specialist for personal assistance and recommendations.

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