by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

Recently a man phoned me and explained,

My boss suddenly lost the hearing in one ear due to a virus. My question to you is—is he contagious? In other words, can I lose my hearing from being near him?

I’ve answered thousands of questions related to ears, but this is the first time this particular question has ever come up. Even though no one has asked it before, it is an excellent question.

There’s good news and bad news. First the bad news. Yes, he is contagious—in exactly the same way as if he had a cold or flu. If your immune system isn’t up to par, you could catch his cold or flu from being around him—because that is likely the kind of “bug” he has.

Now for the good news. The chances of your having the same reaction to his virus if you get it is minuscule. For example, I’ve heard of family members having sudden hearing loss from a virus, but I’ve never heard of another family member also getting the virus and having a sudden hearing loss. I’m sure it is possible, but it must be extremely rare if it does occur.

The virus that causes sudden deafness is not some strange, esoteric virus, but just the regular viruses that are around us like cold viruses, flu viruses, Chicken Pox (Varicella) viruses, etc. Normally they cause all the symptoms you know well, but sometimes, for whatever reason, they get into the inner ear and wreak havoc there resulting in sudden hearing loss and/or balance problems.

Personally, I wouldn’t be at all worried about “catching” sudden hearing loss from your boss.