We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to worry about, you just 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. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
When our health abruptly 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 going bald. But you would probably want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart 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 typically as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But this isn’t always the situation. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This typically means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s relevant 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 make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, 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:
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most people, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you should do immediately. First of all, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That won’t work very well. 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 establish what’s wrong and how to address it.
While at our office, you will probably undergo an audiogram to figure out the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). 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. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..