We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. In some situations, 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 balding. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (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 plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) is not typically as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people encounter. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually happens rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering 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 all of a sudden.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a significant key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as you can. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most instances, 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?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines like aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by overuse of opioids.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an increased risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Ongoing exposure to loud sound, like music: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are some things that you need to do as soon as possible. First of all, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You might need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.