We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for example, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. 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. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. About 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the environment 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.
- Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, around half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
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 do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medications like aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
Most 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 case. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. Never just try to wait it out. That won’t work very well. Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely perform 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. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing assessment.