We normally think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for instance, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel compelled to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. When this occurs, acting fast is important.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most cases, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they might take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, about half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines such as aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the case. Numerous types of SSHL are treated similarly, so knowing the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are some things that you should do immediately. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad plan! Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
While at our office, you may undertake an audiogram to identify the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most individuals, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other situations, pills may be capable of generating the desired results. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..