Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. (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. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur suddenly without any early symptoms.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for instance, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a smart idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- Some individuals might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness usually occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
In most circumstances, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good idea to get immunized.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? There are a couple of things that you need to do right away. Never just attempt to wait it out. That isn’t going to work very well. Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is the test where we make you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most individuals, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. For some patients, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have been known to be very 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.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Contact us today to schedule a hearing assessment.