Hearing loss has a track record for advancing gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
It can be very alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for example, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would most likely want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. When this happens, acting fast is essential.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very quickly as the name suggests. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, maybe they’re not able 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 cases.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good idea to get immunized.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
Most 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 have. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Many types of SSHL are treated similarly, so knowing the accurate cause is not always required for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and discover that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you need to do right away. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s not a good idea! Rather, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you identify what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to establish the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..