We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just going bald! But you would likely want to make 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 takes place, acting fast is important.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) is not usually as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people encounter. But it’s not really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness usually occurs quickly. 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, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, approximately half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a big key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an increased risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline progressively due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the precise cause is not always necessary for successful treatment.
What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are some essential steps you should take immediately. Above all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to determine your degree 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 can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. 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, contact us right away for an assessment..