We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! But you would most 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 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. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness normally happens quickly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as you can. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an increased risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline gradually due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the situation. Many types of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the accurate cause isn’t always required for effective treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That’s a bad 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 figure out what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to identify the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we make you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You may need to take a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.