Hearing loss has a track record for developing slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
It can be truly alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just 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 lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is crucial.
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 exactly 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 impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very quickly as the name implies. 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, 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 as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher 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:
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline progressively due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medications like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some important steps you should take immediately. Don’t just attempt to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you may take an audiogram to identify the amount 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 completely non-invasive). 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 necessary. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired effects. Steroids have proven to be quite 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 may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..