Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. When this happens, acting fast is important.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of 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.
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name implies. 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 ears! 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 there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most circumstances, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
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 this isn’t always the situation. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take as soon as possible. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. 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 able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you may take an audiogram to determine the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other situations, 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 known root cause). You may need to take 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, contact us right away for an evaluation..