We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for example, they would probably 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.
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common medications such as aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline gradually due to recurring exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Many types of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the exact cause is not always necessary for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are some important steps you should take as soon as possible. Don’t just attempt to play the waiting game. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you will probably undergo an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some people, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired results. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.