We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be quite alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for instance, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would probably want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not generally as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Every 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 starts to disappear. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most circumstances, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most people, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you can’t 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 won’t work very well. Instead, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to address it.
We will probably undertake an audiogram in our office to identify your degree 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 rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..