We normally think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. 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”). 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 compelled 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. When this occurs, acting fast is important.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. About 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This typically means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL 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?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, such as music: For most people, loud sound will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But this isn’t always the situation. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that your hearing is gone? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That’s a bad idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you figure out what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you may take an audiogram to establish the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we have you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL due to 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 assessment..