We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
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 going bald. 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 develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this occurs, acting fast is important.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- Sudden hearing loss occurs very rapidly as the name indicates. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. 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 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 wait, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline progressively due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Many types of SSHL are treated similarly, so knowing the accurate cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take as soon as possible. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. 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 will probably undergo an audiogram to determine the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (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 obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills may be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..