Sudden, Unilateral Hearing Loss – Deaf in One Ear

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss may vary from mild to severe (deafness) and usually affects only one side (unilateral). This type of hearing loss occurs over a short period, within a few hours or sometimes almost instantaneously. In most cases of sudden loss of hearing, the condition may spontaneously resolve with a partial or complete return of the hearing. In cases where the hearing loss resolves, it usually occurs within 10 to 14 days.

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Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss on One Side

Causes of sudden hearing loss (SHL) are similar to the causes of tinnitus and should be investigated thoroughly. SHL can affect both adults and children.

Sudden hearing loss (SHL) is suspected to be caused by severe trauma to the ear, head or a cardiovascular accident (CVA or stroke) due to the rapid onset and one sided nature of the loss. However, most cases of sudden hearing loss occurs as a result of infections, especially viral infections.

Many childhood diseases and common viral infections can lead to sudden hearing loss. Viral endolymphatic labyrinthitis may occur as a result of these viral infections, which is the most common cause of sudden loss affecting only one ear. Known viruses/viral infections which may cause sudden hearing loss include :

  • Mumps
  • Measles
  • Chickenpox
  • Influenza
  • Mononucleosis
  • Syphilis

Other conditions known for causing sudden hearing loss include neoplasms, lupus, Cogan’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Buerger’s disease and ototoxic drugs.

A perilymph fistula (an abnormally formed passage that develops due to pathological causes) may develop between the middle and inner ear and cause sudden hearing loss. Perilymph fistulas may occur as a result of sudden, severe pressure changes and certain strenuous activities like weight lifting.

Signs & Symptoms Associated with Sudden Loss of Hearing

Apart from the partial or complete loss of hearing or impaired hearing, other signs and symptoms may occur in conjunction with the condition, giving a possible indication of the cause.

  • Vertigo – Meniere’s disease, middle or inner ear infections, cardiovascular disorders, stroke, perilymph fistula.
  • Tinnitus (ringing sound in the ears) – Refer to the causes of tinnitus.
  • Fever is usually indicative of an infection.
  • Nystagmus (abnormal and rapid movement of the eyes from side to side) may indicate a perilymph fistula, head or ear trauma.

Treatment for Sudden Hearing Loss

Treatment should be directed at the cause if identified. In cases of viral induced inflammation or SHL of unknown causes, oral corticosteroids is among the most effective treatment. Local hydrocortisone applications within the ear may also assist with relieving the hearing loss. Anti-virals may be considered in prolonged viral infections suspected as a possible cause of SHL.


  1. Sudden Hearing Loss. American Hearing Research Foundation
  2. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Baylor College of Medicine
  3. Sudden Deafness. Merck

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  • Ronald Doss

    I had a sudden loss of hearing in my left ear. It first became noticeable on one morning I woke up and couldn’t hear a thing. The right ear has been nearly deaf for 2-3 decades. I had purchased 2 digital hearing aids from a recognized online source. I thought I might be able to get some hearing from my right ear, but very little amplification in my left ear, which, according to hearing exams of more than a year ago, could not catch higher-frequency sounds. As a result, I only used the aid in my left ear a few times, since I was primarily concerned with the bad ear, my right ear. So, I don’t really believe the aid caused my loss of hearing in my left ear, my previously good ear, which only became evident yesterday morning. It caught me completely be surprise, because it was so unexpected..

    Why did I buy online? Primarily because of economics. I’m retired, on Medicare, and Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids or exams for fitting them. I think the prices of hearing aids are way out of line today. I can buy a complete computer system and flat screen TV for what some suppliers charge for a tiny hearing aid, which still has to be programmed and fitted, sometimes several times, and all of that has to come out of my pocket.

    I am doing nothing with my left ear today, but I do have an aid in my right ear, the previously defective one. I can get a little sound from it, but not enough to engage in conversation with anyone. So, I’m really distraught now, with my left ear suddenly going nearly deaf. Maybe it was from a previous condition. I just don’t feel the hearing aid is to blame, because I had very little interaction with it in my left ear during the adjustment period, and nothing I did would seem to account for what happened.

    Can I expect my hearing in the left ear to return, or possibly get better than it is? I can’t get to a doctor right away, but I realize if this continues I will have to contact an audiologist for an exam and advice. Maybe I have an infection or inflammation, or maybe this is the result of something that has been building up for some time.Usually I got a popping sound when such brief and rare episodes occurred in the past, and then my hearing was normal again for the rest of the day and in the mornings. Now it feels as if I have a plug in my left ear, with only a tiny amount of sound detected. It’s quite depressing to suddenly find yourself almost in silence in your life.

  • Hi Ronald. We can’t say with any degree of certainty whether your hearing will restore. You will have to consult with otorhinolaryngologist (ENT specialist). In fact you should have seen your family doctor who should have sent you to an ENT immediately once the symptoms started. We wouldn’t want to “guess” what the cause may be. But as with any medical condition, the longer you wait to seek treatment the worse the outcome. Don’t leave it any longer. See a medical professional.

  • Vicki Trisler Barnes

    I had a pacemaker put in exactly 18 days ago. I woke up this morning with almost no hearing in my left ear. The pacemaker is on the left side of my chest. Could there be a connection?

  • Hi Vicki. It is unlikely but this is best answered by your cardiologist. We are not aware of such an occurrence but there may be other factors at play here that your doctor is aware of.

  • I woke up Friday with loud ringing and muffled hearing in my right ear. I am 57, in good health, and do have constant mild tinnitus, ringing in my ears, anyway, but this was dis-orienting. It magnified certain frequencies so that music sounded like the high notes were cymbals crashing and it muffled sounds like I had a pillow over that ear. I scared myself with internet diagnosis. I noticed next day that one nostril was slightly stopped up. So, on the 2nd day I snorted Afrin No Drip Severe Congestion pump mist that we use for scuba diving. Sunday, today, the ringing is a little louder than my normal ringing but hardly noticeable and is not disorienting, just slightly louder. I hope that my problem was congestion in one ear. All through this I felt fine.

  • Christopher Pace

    Did it go away??? Or what did you do?