We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for instance, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- 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.
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually happens quickly. This typically 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, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most people, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs like aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Numerous kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the exact cause is not always necessary for effective treatment.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad idea! Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you identify what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to find out 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 entirely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by 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 evaluation..