Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
It can be very alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just going bald! But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. When this occurs, acting fast is key.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually happens rapidly. This typically means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medications like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Numerous types of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the exact cause is not always required for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and discover that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you should do as soon as possible. Don’t just try to wait it out. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Getting in touch with 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 address it.
While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to identify 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 beep). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most patients, the first course of treatment will most likely include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You may need to take a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing assessment.