We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
It can be very alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! 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 possible (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is crucial.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) is not generally as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness usually happens rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning 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.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. 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. The longer you wait, the greater your chance 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:
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most people, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Many types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the exact cause is not always necessary for effective treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one day and discover that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That’s not a good plan! Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is the test where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
For most patients, the first round of treatment will likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL caused 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, call us right away for an evaluation..