We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. 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 often, it isn’t. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for example, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would likely want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is essential.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss develops 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, maybe they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline progressively due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is elevated by excessive use of opioids.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an increased risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Numerous types of SSHL are addressed similarly, so determining the accurate cause is not always required for effective treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you need to do as soon as possible. Never just try to wait it out. That’s a bad idea! 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 determine what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you may take an audiogram to figure out the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.