Hearing loss can be a confusing medical issue with no apparent cause. If you’ve noticed a decline in your hearing in one or both ears, it's important to seek medical treatment. Your hearing loss may be permanent, such as from age-related hearing loss or complications from diabetes. However, your hearing loss may also just be temporary, especially if the onset of hearing loss was sudden.
Consider if you have experienced any of the following causes of sudden temporary hearing loss: recent exposure to loud noise (such as at a concert or firing range), an ear infection or a cold, strenuous exercise, or extreme stress. If you have, then most likely your hearing loss is temporary and your hearing will return within a few days. Regardless, see your doctor immediately if you are experiencing hearing loss.
What are the Symptoms of Temporary Hearing Loss?
You may have temporary hearing loss if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Mild to profound hearing loss in one or both ears
- A ringing, humming, or buzzing in one or both ears (tinnitus)
- A feeling of fullness or constant pressure in your ears
- Difficulty hearing higher frequency sounds, such as women’s voices or birds chirping
- Difficulty holding a conversation because you can’t understand what’s being said, especially in a noisy environment
- Dizziness or an unbalanced feeling
What are the Causes of Temporary Hearing Loss?
Most temporary hearing loss gradually increases in severity before it is noticed. Sometimes, however, the onset of hearing loss is rapid and sudden. Causes can range from a simple obstruction in the ear to head trauma. The most common causes of temporary hearing loss include:
- Ear infections: ear infections are common and can occur at any age, although they are more common in children. Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is a common ear infection that affects the ear canal or outer ear; Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Both can affect hearing and cause temporary hearing loss due to inflammation and fluid build-up.
- Earwax blockage: earwax, or cerumen, is a substance produced by hair follicles and glands located in your ear canal; earwax lubricates the ear and possesses antibacterial properties. Most earwax falls out of your ear naturally, but sometimes too much can build up and result in a condition known as an impaction. Impacted earwax may cause temporary hearing loss because the earwax pushes up against the eardrum, preventing it from vibrating properly when it receives external sound waves. This may result in sounds being muffled, or no sounds getting through at all. Impacted earwax may also cause tinnitus, or a ringing sound in the ear or ears.
- Extreme exercise or stress: there are several ways that very strenuous exercise can cause temporary hearing loss. The first is that strenuous exercise can cause perilymphatic fistula, which is a rupturing of an inner ear membrane that allows fluid to leak into the middle ear, resulting in hearing loss. The second condition is large vestibular aqueduct syndrome (LVAS), in which strenuous exercise increases intracranial pressure. This increase in pressure forces the contents of the endolymphatic sac to flow back into the cochlea which causes hearing loss. Finally, straining during exercise may cause a temporary lack of blood flow to the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss. Periods of extreme stress may cause the same conditions to develop.
- Loud noises: being exposed to loud noises, such as at a concert or sporting event, or while operating firearms, power tools, or fireworks, can cause temporary hearing loss, tinnitus, or both. Known as noise-induced hearing loss, this is the most common cause of long-term sensorineural hearing loss. Your hearing will most likely return to normal, but you most likely have some degree of permanent hearing loss, because the loud noises damage the hair cells located in the fluid-filled cochlea of the inner ear. These hair cells, once damaged, do not heal or grow back. This permanent loss will continue to get worse with exposure. Any sounds greater than 80-85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss with repeated long-term exposure.
- Head trauma: any situation that results in head trauma, such as a car accident or sports injury, may result in temporary hearing loss. The force of a blow to the head can fracture the bones in the middle ear, damage the inner ear or cochlea, or injure the auditory nerve or portion of the brain that processes sound. Such damage can cause permanent or temporary hearing loss.
How is Temporary Hearing Loss Treated?
Temporary hearing loss often clears up on its own with no intervention. However, it is recommended that you seek medical treatment anytime you experience hearing loss so that the problem can be properly diagnosed and treated. Some conditions that cause temporary hearing loss may result in permanent hearing loss, so it’s best to let your doctor determine the best course of action, which may include:
- Experience quiet: if your hearing loss is due to exposure from loud noise, it’s important to experience silence so that your ears can sufficiently rest
- Antibiotics: hearing loss due some kind of ear infection is usually easily treated with a prescribed antibiotic from your doctor. The antibiotics will help reduce the inflammation and allow fluid to drain; just make sure you take the full course that is prescribed to you
- Removing blockages in your ear: if your hearing loss is due to impacted wax or some other foreign object in your ear canal, don’t try to remove it yourself; have a medical professional safely remove the blockage so that you can hear again.
- Surgery: some causes of temporary hearing loss, such as certain conditions arising from strenuous exercise require surgical intervention to restore your hearing
Take These Steps to Prevent Temporary Hearing Loss
Protect your ears and your hearing loss by taking the following steps:
- Wear earplugs: noise-induced hearing loss is the most common cause of both permanent and temporary hearing loss, so if you’re attending loud events such as concerts, parties, gun ranges, or sporting events, wearing earplugs is imperative to protecting your hearing health. Wear them when doing any noisy work, such as mowing the lawn or operating a table saw. Earplugs that prevent water from entering your ear can also help prevent ear infections.
- Limit your exposure to loud noises: loud music and other loud noises can damage your hearing temporarily and sometimes permanently in as little as a few minutes, so limit the amount of time you put yourself in these dangerous situations. If you do go to a loud concert or other noisy event, make sure you rest your ears afterward by enjoying some silence.
- Work out safely: when exercising, reduce weight if you feel that you’re straining. Make sure you’re breathing properly through every exercise. Avoid any activities that can result in blows to the head.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: