Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, 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 very alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. When this takes place, acting fast is important.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t generally as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But it’s not exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. About 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, maybe they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most circumstances, 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.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, such as music: For most people, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the case. Numerous types of SSHL are treated similarly, so knowing the accurate cause is not always required for effective treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you should do immediately. First of all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s a bad idea! Alternatively, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule 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 deal with it.
While at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a totally 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 problem.
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 required. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). 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 hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.