We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would probably want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. When this occurs, acting fast is important.
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. Around 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name implies. This usually 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 wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they might take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- 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.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is prompt 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 you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater 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:
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medications like aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
The majority 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 have. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to identify the amount of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be capable of generating the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.