We usually think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen abruptly without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just going bald! But you would likely want to schedule 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. When this takes place, acting fast is key.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be able to measure this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. 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? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as you can. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible 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:
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is elevated by excessive use of opioids.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and discover that your hearing is gone? Well, there are some important steps you should take as soon as possible. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to address it.
We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to determine your degree of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.
For most people, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..