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One minute, everything sounds completely normal. The next, everything sounds muffled like speaking to someone on the other side of a wall - sudden hearing loss typically occurs without any warning. Patients therefore require a lot of information about causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. You can find answers to the most frequently asked questions here.

What is acute hearing loss?

Hearing loss may begin suddenly, without any apparent external cause. To be more precise, this is a particular type of hearing loss. The sounds that reach the ear are no longer converted into nerve impulses sent to the brain, as they would be in a healthy ear.

Symptoms often occur in one ear only and are not accompanied by pain. The hearing loss may be so minimal that it goes unnoticed, or so great that it results in complete deafness. Acute hearing loss can affect anyone.

How can acute hearing loss be identified?

A few typical symptoms are used to identify hearing loss. Hearing loss or "incorrect" perception of sounds can develop suddenly, from one moment to the next. The world around you sounds quieter in one or both ears. Voices and music can suddenly sound different, or strange. Everything sounds as if it were wrapped up in cotton wool. You might also hear “double” sounds.
You may no longer be able to tell where a particular sound is coming from. Those with acute hearing loss typically describe feeling a furry sensation around the auricle, or pressure on the ear. Problems such as tinnitus may also occur. In rare cases, the hearing loss may be accompanied by feelings of dizziness.

What causes acute hearing loss?

Although the specific cause is unknown, several theories exist as to the cause. Medical professionals suspect that it involves a circulatory disorder in the smallest blood vessels of the inner ear, which is why the illness is also referred to as acute hearing loss. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss is due to inflammation or a virus (e.g. from a middle ear infection). The tissue around the sensory organs may become inflamed during an infection, which may damage the hearing.
Some viruses affect the nerves. If the cochlear nerve is affected, hearing is impaired. Stress is also regarded as a potential trigger that can, as a minimum, contribute to the harmful impact of the disease. Those affected often state that they were under extreme stress before the symptoms occurred. In some people, stress has a negative impact on physical functions and may therefore also affect the ears, which are known to be particularly sensitive.

What can be done in the event of acute hearing loss?

Between 40 and 100 people out of 100,000 are affected each year by acute hearing loss. Their ability to hear decreases dramatically from one moment to the next, usually in just one ear. Severity can vary from a dull feeling, as if everything had been wrapped up in cotton wool, to noises inside the ear such as tinnitus, to profound deafness. We have summarised here the possible treatments and listed the cases in which you should definitely seek medical advice.

Wait or seek treatment?

Although hearing loss doesn’t represent an emergency from a medical point of view, it is advisable to treat it proactively. If you notice one or more of the symptoms described here, you should contact a Hearing Care Professional. In around 50 percent of cases, normal hearing returns within 24 to 48 hours. It can generally be assumed that the lower the intensity of hearing loss, and the shorter the period, the more successful the treatment is likely to be.

How does a Hearing Care Professional check for acute hearing loss?

A diagnosis is made according to the exclusion principle: All other potential diseases of the ear are ruled out before diagnosis. The Hearing Care Professional usually starts the examination by asking the following questions. When did the hearing loss begin? What are the symptoms? Were you exposed to noise? Do you have a pre-existing condition (e.g. diabetes)? What medications are being taken? Are you stressed?
The ear is then examined visually using an otoscope to ensure that the hearing loss is not the result of a blocked ear canal or damaged eardrum. Various hearing tests may be performed to test your sense of balance, and blood pressure is measured. None of these examinations are painful.

Can acute hearing loss be prevented?

If the illness appears to be the result of a circulatory disorder, the same rules apply as those for preventing a heart attack. A healthy lifestyle is important. This involves avoiding stress, sticking to a healthy diet, and doing sufficient exercise, as high blood fat levels can impede blood circulation. Nicotine is also harmful to the blood vessels, which is why you may be advised to give up smoking.
In addition, very loud noises should be avoided. Suitable ear protection should be used in case of continued exposure to noise, for example at a concert or nightclub. In the event of prolonged exposure to noise (for example, due to having a specific job), having customized ear protection is the best way to help.

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