Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be very alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for instance, 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 compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is essential.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to disappear. But this isn’t always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most people, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you need to do as soon as possible. Never just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad plan! Alternatively, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. 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 may take an audiogram to figure out the amount of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..