Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) is the only true “emergency” in the audiological field due to its time sensitive treatment regimen. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is commonly defined as a significant decline in hearing (of at least 30 dB at three consequential frequencies) with a rapid onset (less that 72 hours). Those effected by SSNHL often describe waking up one morning with decreased or no hearing in one ear. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is estimated to effect between 1 to 6 per 5000 people, however the actual prevalence is probably much higher as it is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed (

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss can easily be misdiagnosed as an  “ear infection”, “fluid in the ears”, or wax impaction. Sometimes individuals suffering from this ailment will wait, in hopes of the problem improving over time. This is detrimental as early treatment yields significantly improved patient outcomes. Approximately half of patients with SSNHL will recover some hearing without treatment, however steroid treatment improves the chances of recovery to 75-80% if given within two weeks of symptom presentation, and becomes ineffective after 6 weeks (Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2016 Jun; 75(6): 172–174).

If you or someone you know notices a sudden change in hearing, quickly visit your local audiology clinic for a hearing test. At Saint John Audiology, our policy is to evaluate any client with a potential SSNHL referral as soon as possible. An audiologist will be able to identify and refer for impacted cerumen (ear wax), an ear infection, sudden sensorineural hearing loss or other issues requiring medical intervention.


Amanda Kirkpatrick


Saint John Audiology