We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just 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.
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not generally as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- Some people may also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically happens rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most circumstances, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline progressively due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- 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.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous types of SSHL are treated 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 find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take as soon as possible. Don’t just try to wait it out. That’s not a good plan! Alternatively, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us right away. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to treat it.
We will most likely perform an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
For most people, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..