Hearing loss has a reputation for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can occur all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
It can be truly alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for example, they would probably 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 make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. When this happens, acting fast is key.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t usually as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name implies. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- 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.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
- The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most circumstances, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, like music: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medications such as aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That’s not a good plan! Instead, you should find treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is the test where we have you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some people, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of numerous 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 inhibits your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..