We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
It can be quite alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t generally as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people encounter. But it’s not exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss happens 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, maybe they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But this is not always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common drugs like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
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’re dealing with. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you need to do right away. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That’s a bad plan! Alternatively, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
While you’re at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
For most patients, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..