Hearing loss has a track record for developing gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). 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 most likely want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. About 1 in 5000 people a year suffer from SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- Ongoing exposure to loud sound, such as music: Hearing will decline progressively due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So what action should you take if you wake up one day and find that you can’t hear anything? There are a couple of things that you need to do immediately. Above all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s not a good plan! Alternatively, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing assessment.