We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you simply need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, 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 might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for example, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would likely want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) is not generally as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- Sudden deafness happens very rapidly as the name suggests. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most circumstances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. 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.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing you can do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, like music: For most people, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medications like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Understanding the exact 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 what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you need to do right away. Above all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s not a good plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to establish the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing assessment.