We normally think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur suddenly without any early symptoms.
It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for example, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this happens, acting fast is important.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very rapidly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people 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.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everybody 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 as soon as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medications such as aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the case. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you should do right away. Don’t just attempt to wait it out. That’s a bad idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is the test where we have you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
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 situations, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You might need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..