We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur suddenly without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For example, 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 happens, acting fast is important.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent 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 commonly include the following:
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Some individuals might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards 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.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, maybe they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most situations, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most people, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- 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.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is elevated by excessive use of opioids.
Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some important steps you should take as soon as possible. Never just try to play the waiting game. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to address it.
We will probably undertake an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most individuals, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. 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 may need to use a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..