We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
It can be truly alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But it isn’t really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness normally occurs quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of 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.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as you can. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good strategy 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?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Ongoing exposure to loud sound, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take as soon as possible. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you may undertake an audiogram to establish the degree 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 can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.
For most individuals, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You might need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.