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Turn the Volume Down: Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss 

Sudden hearing loss can be alarming; you might brush it off because of an ear infection. Prompt treatment is necessary to avoid permanent damage to your hearing.

A woman holds a hand to her ear, indicating she is hard of hearing.

Hearing loss can occur at any age, but it can be particularly alarming if it happens suddenly. Sudden sensorineural (“inner ear”) hearing loss (SSHL), is defined as a loss of hearing that occurs over a 24-hour period or less. It can happen for a variety of reasons. 

You will usually recover if you have a mild hearing loss. But it’s best to seek medical treatment if you have other accompanying symptoms. 

We uncover some causes and symptoms of sudden hearing loss and how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help with recovery. 

Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss 

Most cases of sudden hearing loss are viral and can be treated with steroids. The good news is that patients with mild cases usually recover fully. But it’s important to seek treatment early to prevent it from worsening. 

You might put off seeing a medical practitioner because you think sudden hearing loss may be due to allergies or a sinus infection. Still, it can indicate a more serious issue. These are some causes

  • Ear infections: Ear infections can cause fluid build-up in your ear, leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss. If the infection is not treated promptly, it can cause damage to the ear. 
  • Trauma: Trauma to the head or ear. This can happen in accidents or falls. 
  • Noise exposure: Exposure to loud noises, such as attending concerts or using headphones at high volumes. 
  • Underlying medical conditions: Meniere’s disease (a disruption of the fluid balance in the inner ear), an autoimmune inner ear disease (when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues of your inner ear), or a tumour of the hearing nerve could cause sudden hearing loss. 

Most of these causes are accompanied by other medical conditions or symptoms.

Another factor to consider is whether hearing loss happens in one or both ears. For example, if sudden hearing loss occurs only in one ear, tumours on the auditory nerve should be ruled out as the cause. Autoimmune disease may cause SSHL in one or both ears. 

A woman holds her hand behind her ear, indicating difficulty hearing.
Don’t put off sudden hearing loss as a mild condition. It’s best to seek advice from your doctor if you experience it.

How TCM Explains Sudden Hearing Loss 

According to Real Medical Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew, the ears are governed by the Kidneys, while the meridian channels of the Triple Warmer, Gallbladder and Small Intestines run in close proximity. Because of this, hearing loss can indicate pathological changes to these organs and meridian channels. It’s also possible that other organs like the Liver, Spleen and Heart are involved too. 

The common pathological changes are: 

  • Infection of exogenic pathogens like Wind, Cold, Fire and Dampness. This usually happens in acute onset cases. 
  • Imbalances involving deficiencies of the Kidney, Liver, Spleen and Heart; the presence of pathogenic factors such as Fire, Dampness, phlegm, Qi Stagnation and blood clots. This usually happens in chronic cases. 

Symptoms of Sudden Hearing Loss in TCM 

Due to the proximity of the ears and the Kidneys being the primary organs involved in hearing loss, other related symptoms are: 

  • Mental disorders like irritability, anxiety, or depression 
  • Visual disorders 
  • Jaw ache or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD) 
  • Lower back ache, lower limb pain and weakness
A therapist removes suction cups from a patient’s back after cupping therapy.
Cupping therapy is used to complement sudden hearing loss treatments.

Treatments for Sudden Hearing Loss 

If your hearing is deteriorating, TCM can help through herbal medication, acupuncture, cupping, gua sha (scraping), moxibustion, tuina (Chinese manual therapy) and blood-letting.

These are formulated carefully to address each patient’s unique body constitution. It’s why it’s best to consult a TCM physician for a proper assessment before undergoing any treatments.

Recommended herbal remedies 

Physician Yew suggests the following remedies to improve your hearing: 

  • Yi Qi Cong Ming Tang (益气聪明汤): Regenerates Spleen qi to nourish ears, dispels Fire, Wind and Dampness to promote circulation to the ears, improves hearing 
  • Si Ni Tang (四逆汤): Regenerates yang energy of the Heart to dispel Cold, warms and nourishes the ears, improves hearing 
  • Si Wu Tang (四物汤): Regenerates Liver blood to nourish the ears, improves hearing 

These herbal formulas are meant for varying states of hearing loss, corresponding to different body constitutions with specific underlying imbalances.


Acupuncture has a direct and powerful effect in dispelling pathogenic factors. It improves qi and blood circulation to the ears and even boosts Kidney and other organ functions. 

At home, you can do an acupressure massage. Physician Yew recommends these localised acupoints to dispel pathogens and unblock meridians to improve hearing

  • Yi feng (SJ17, 翳风) 
  • Qi mai (SJ18, 契脉) 
  • Jiao sun (SJ20, 角孙) 
  • Er men (SJ21, 耳门) 

You can massage these distal acupoints located away from the centre of the body: 

  • Yang lao (SI6, 养老) 
  • Ye men (SJ2, 液门)
  • Shen men (HT7, 神门) 
  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉) 

The effect of acupressure massage on hearing loss is limited and is only meant to supplement acupuncture. Professional help from a certified TCM practitioner who can perform acupuncture will have a much stronger and more comprehensive effect in tackling the root imbalance. 

Clinical Treatments  

The most common treatment for sudden hearing loss is corticosteroids, especially in cases where the cause is unknown. A doctor will usually prescribe steroids, which usually work by reducing inflammation, decreasing swelling, and helping your body fight illness.

If an infection causes your sudden hearing loss, antibiotics will be recommended. 

Don’t stress if you find yourself unable to hear all of a sudden. Consult a medical professional as soon as possible to diagnose and treat your condition, and your hearing will return to normal in no time.

Tell us what worked for you if you’ve experienced sudden hearing loss.


  1. WHO, 2023. Deafness and Hearing Loss. [online] [Accessed 29 March 2023]
  2. 2. Mayoclinic, Hearing Loss. [online] [Accessed 29 March 2023]
  3. 3. Harvard Health Publishing, 2019. Now hear this: Don’t ignore sudden hearing loss . [online] [Accessed 29 March 2023]
  4. 4. John Hopkins Medicine. Types of Hearing Loss. [online] [Accessed 29 March 2023]
  5. Mount Sinai. Sudden Hearing Loss. [online] [Accessed 29 March 2023]
  6. HearingLoss.org. Sudden Deafness. [online] [Accessed 29 March 2023]

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