We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for example, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. 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).
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- It may seem like 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. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually happens quickly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most circumstances, the person will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, they might take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, like music: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take right away. Don’t just try to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! Instead, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
While you’re at our office, you will probably undergo an audiogram to establish the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..