We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
It can be quite alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. 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 if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to schedule 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!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. 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.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness normally occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they might take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most situations, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, like music: For most people, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are some things that you should do immediately. Above all, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad idea! Instead, you should get 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 treat it.
We will most likely perform an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most individuals, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. 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.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Contact us today to schedule a hearing assessment.