Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. 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?) That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
It can be quite alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for example, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is crucial.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness normally happens quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances 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:
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most people, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the case. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that you can’t hear anything? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. Don’t just attempt to wait it out. That’s not a good plan! Instead, you should find treatment within 72 hours. Calling 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 treat it.
We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to determine your degree of hearing loss (this is the test where we make you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by 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, call us right away for an assessment..