We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would likely want to schedule 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. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t generally as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 people a year suffer from SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Some individuals might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness normally occurs quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! 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 come back for about 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 circumstances, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common medications like aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Ongoing exposure to loud sound, such as music: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Many kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the precise cause isn’t always required for effective treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take immediately. Never just try to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! 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 may undertake an audiogram to figure out the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed 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 hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing evaluation.