We normally think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes 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”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But you would probably want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. When this takes place, acting fast is key.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness normally occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, maybe they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. 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.
The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Many kinds of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the accurate cause isn’t always required for successful treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take immediately. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That won’t work very well. Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you may take an audiogram to establish the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most patients, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. Steroids have been known 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.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..