The causes of sudden hearing loss

Published 05 September 2018  | Updated 16 May 2024  | 3 mins read

An audiologist examining the ear of a patient with an otoscope.

Hearing loss is often a gradual process, developing over time as a natural part of ageing. However, hearing loss can also happen suddenly, which is usually far more noticeable than when symptoms appear gradually.

Hearing disorders can be temporary or permanent and could be caused by a range of factors, so we always recommend seeking the advice of a professional audiologist or GP should you experience a sudden hearing loss in one or both ears. These are a few possible causes.

A build-up of ear wax

Ear wax (cerumen) is a perfectly normal, natural substance that plays an important role in keeping your ears clean and free from infection. It usually works its way out of your ear by itself, but occasionally it can build up and block your ear, causing itchiness, a ringing sound (tinnitus) or temporary hearing loss.
This can be exacerbated by trying to clean your ears with a cotton bud or similar object. You should never try to remove ear wax yourself, as the ear is a delicate organ and you’re likely to simply push the wax further down into your ear canal. Instead, you should visit a trained professional. The audiologists at The Hearing Care Partnership remove ear wax using the latest, safest methods, including irrigation and microsuction, and will use the one most suited to the level of wax build-up and the health of your ears.

Ear infections or trauma

Ear infections are very common, especially in children, and can sometimes bring about sudden, temporary hearing loss. They’re often caused by a viral infection that has spread to your ear, even something as simple as a cold. Depending on the cause, your GP may prescribe antibiotic or steroidal ear drops, it may just clear up on its own within a few days.
Serious infections of the middle ear or trauma, such as a blow to the head or a sudden loud noise like an explosion, can cause a hole or rupture to your eardrum, known as a perforated eardrum. Although you may have earache, any resulting hearing loss is usually temporary until the eardrum has healed.

Ménière’s disease

Ménière’s disease is a rare condition, the specific cause of which is unknown, although it’s associated with problems with fluid pressure in the inner ear and is likely brought on by a combination of factors.
The symptoms of Ménière’s disease include attacks of vertigo and nausea that come on without warning, as well as sudden hearing loss, and as a result, it can be confused with conditions like ear infections and migraines that have similar symptoms.
While there is no cure for the disease itself, these attacks can be treated with prescription medicine to relieve the symptoms. Should you experience these symptoms, it’s important to consult your hearing professional or GP, who will refer you to an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist to confirm a diagnosis of Ménière’s disease.

We’re here to help

Should you experience any form of sudden hearing loss, it’s always best to seek the advice of a GP or hearing professional as soon as possible. The expert audiologists at The Hearing Care Partnership will be able to offer help, information and treatment where possible, all as part of a reassuring, personal service from your local clinic. Visit our Branch Finder to find your nearest practice, or you can call us on 0800 52 00 546 or book an appointment online.