We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. 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 case, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be rather alarming when the state of your health abruptly 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 in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this occurs, acting fast is key.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- As the name implies, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. 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 be suddenly impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to disappear. But this is not always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your chance 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:
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications 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.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work that way. 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’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. Never just attempt to wait it out. That isn’t going to work very well. Rather, 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 best course of treatment.
While at our office, you will probably undergo an audiogram to determine 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 rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first course of treatment will most likely include steroids. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..