Hearing loss has a track record for advancing slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a 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. When this occurs, acting fast is essential.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t typically as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. That is, the environment 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 noticeable.
- Sudden hearing loss occurs very quickly as the name implies. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, the person will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances 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 leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. 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.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you will probably undergo an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a totally 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 typically include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..