Hearing loss has a reputation for showing itself slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re only 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 often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
It can be quite alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to make 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 smart idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t generally as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But it’s not really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Around 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden hearing loss will impact just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness normally occurs quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering 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.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 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 get treatment as rapidly as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
In most circumstances, 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.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, 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.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline gradually due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common drugs like aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good idea to get immunized.
The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you formulate an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one day and find that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some essential steps you should take as soon as possible. First and foremost, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That won’t work very well. Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to address it.
While you’re at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to figure out the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we make you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. 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 someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..