Hearing loss has a track record for advancing slowly. 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 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 might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for example, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. 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).
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?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t generally as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But it’s not exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden hearing loss will impact just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very quickly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. 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.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. 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. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most situations, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline gradually due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take right away. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to address it.
While you’re at our office, you may undertake an audiogram to identify the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the test where we have you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
For most individuals, the first course of treatment will 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. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered 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 evaluation..