I woke up this morning and can't hear out of my right ear. What should I do?

Answer: In many cases, the cause of a sudden change in hearing is easily found and addressed, such as hearing loss caused by excessive wax or an ear infection. Even allergies or illness can affect your hearing. However, something more serious may be going on.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) is an unexplained sudden or rapid decrease in hearing. SSNHL generally affects only one ear. While some people will recover part or all of their hearing over time on their own, the chances of recovering your hearing increases with timely treatment by an ENT, or Ear, Nose, and Throat physician.

Another possible cause is the use of ototoxic drugs, which are medications that are toxic to the ear. Head trauma can result in a decrease in hearing as well. Blood circulation problems and diseases, such as Meniere’s disease, can also rapidly change your hearing. In some cases, a change in your hearing could be a symptom of another underlying issue, so additional testing may be recommended by your physician.

A sudden change in hearing can be a frightening experience, and it warrants a phone call to your family physician. Though it may be due to something as easily remedied as too much wax in your ear canal, when it comes to your hearing, it is better to err of the side of caution and treat a sudden change as an emergency.