Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
It can be truly alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel compelled to schedule 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 happens, acting fast is essential.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. 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 commonly include the following:
- The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. 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, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover 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. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline progressively due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like 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: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an increased risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you formulate an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Numerous kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the exact cause isn’t always required for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. Above all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s a bad plan! Instead, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to treat it.
We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is the examination where we have you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..