We usually think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. 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 might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. When this takes place, acting fast is important.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. About 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Sudden deafness happens very rapidly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, maybe they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most circumstances, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medications like aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Recurring exposure to loud sound, such as music: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you formulate an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But this isn’t always the situation. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. Don’t just try to wait it out. That won’t work very well. Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to address it.
We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Call us today to schedule a hearing assessment.