We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re simply 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 emotion as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, 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 quickly is a smart plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it’s not really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs quickly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher 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:
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. 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 hearing loss?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take right away. First and foremost, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad idea! Instead, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will typically include steroids. For some patients, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). You might need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..