Hearing loss has a reputation for showing itself gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. 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 instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no 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 possible (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this happens, acting fast is crucial.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not usually as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people encounter. But it isn’t really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to disappear. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically happens rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the person will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common medicines like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. First of all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s not a good idea! Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to determine the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a completely 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. For some patients, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have been known 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 may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..