We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be quite alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged 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. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not generally as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people encounter. But it’s not exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world 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” sound sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- 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.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as possible. When you first notice 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. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common drugs like aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you have 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 a couple of important steps you should take as soon as possible. First and foremost, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule 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.
While at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to determine the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the test where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication might 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 due to an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..