Steroids for idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss

  • Review
  • Intervention


  • Benjamin PC Wei,

    1. Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital/University of Melbourne, Department of Otolaryngology and Department of Surgery, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002, Australia
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  • Sherina Mubiru,

    1. Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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  • Stephen O'Leary

    Corresponding author
    1. Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital/University of Melbourne, Department of Otolaryngology, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
    • Stephen O'Leary, Department of Otolaryngology, Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital/University of Melbourne, 32 Gisbourne Street, East Melbourne, Victoria, 3002, Australia.

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This is an update of a Cochrane Review first published in The Cochrane Library in Issue 1, 2006.

Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (ISSHL) is a clinical diagnosis characterised by a sudden deafness of cochlear or retrocochlear origin in the absence of a clear precipitating cause. Steroids are commonly prescribed to treat this condition. There is no consensus on their effectiveness.


To determine the effectiveness and the side-effect profile of steroids in the treatment of idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group Trials Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); PubMed; EMBASE; CINAHL; Web of Science; BIOSIS Previews; Cambridge Scientific Abstracts; mRCT and additional sources for published and unpublished trials. The date of the most recent search was 19 June 2009.

Selection criteria

We identified all randomised controlled trials (with or without blinding) in which steroids were evaluated in comparison with either no treatment or a placebo. We considered trials including the use of steroids in combination with another treatment if the comparison control group also received the same other treatment. The two authors reviewed the full text articles of all the retrieved trials of possible relevance and applied the inclusion criteria independently.

Data collection and analysis

We graded trials for methodological quality using the Cochrane approach. The data extraction was performed in a standardised manner by one author and rechecked by the other author. Where necessary we contacted investigators to obtain the missing information. Meta-analysis was neither possible nor considered appropriate because of the heterogeneity of the populations studied and the differences in steroid formulations, dosages and duration of treatment. The quality of the result of each study was analysed and reported individually. A narrative overview of the result is presented.

Main results

Only two trials, involving 164 participants, satisfied the inclusion criteria and both were of low methodological quality. One trial showed a lack of effect of oral steroids in hearing improvement compared with the placebo control group. The other trial showed a significant improvement of hearing in 61% of the patients receiving oral steroid and in only 32% of the patients from the control group (combination of placebo treated group and untreated control group). There was no clear evidence presented in the former study about any harmful side effects of the steroids. The latter study declared that no patients suffered from adverse effects from the steroid treatment.

Authors' conclusions

The value of steroids in the treatment of idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss remains unclear since the evidence obtained from randomised controlled trials is contradictory in outcome, in part because the studies are based upon too small a number of patients.

Plain language summary

Steroids for the treatment of sudden hearing loss with unknown cause

A sudden onset of hearing loss due to disease of the organ of hearing is a medical emergency and requires prompt recognition and treatment. In addition to the hearing impairment, patients may also suffer from symptoms of tinnitus (background ringing noise), a sensation of ear fullness and dizziness. In many instances medical specialists are able to find the cause and treat the hearing impairment. However, in a large proportion of patients, no known cause of the sudden hearing loss can be found. Steroids are commonly used to treat patients with sudden hearing loss of an unknown origin. The specific action of the steroids in the hearing apparatus is uncertain. It has been postulated that the steroid treatment improves hearing because of its ability to reduce inflammation and oedema (swelling) in the hearing organs. The review of the trials showed a lack of good quality evidence for the effectiveness of steroids in the treatment of sudden hearing loss of an unknown origin. The quality of the trials was generally low and more research is needed.