Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be truly alarming when the state 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 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 applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
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 kind of hearing loss most people experience. But it’s not exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. 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.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
- Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness typically occurs quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, around half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most people, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So what action should you take if you wake up one day and discover that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some essential steps you should take right away. Don’t just attempt to play the waiting game. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. 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 a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most patients, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired effects. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). You might need to use a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..