Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
It can be very alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! But you would likely want to schedule 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 very good reasons why acting quickly is a smart idea!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. When you first notice 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. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common drugs such as aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most people, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous types of SSHL are addressed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you should do immediately. First of all, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s not a good idea! Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely perform an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
For most patients, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to inhibit 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 assessment..