We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be rather 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 probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would likely want to make 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. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness usually happens rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, like music: Hearing will decline progressively due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the situation. Many kinds of SSHL are addressed similarly, so determining the exact cause isn’t always required for effective treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and discover that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you should do as soon as possible. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is the test where we make you wear 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 round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to suppress 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..