We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!
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 a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This generally 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 be suddenly impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most circumstances, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common drugs like aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you have 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? There are a couple of things that you need to do right away. Never just try to wait it out. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some people, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..