We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re going bald. 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 really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- Sudden hearing loss occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. When you first detect 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 higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take immediately. Never just attempt to play the waiting game. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
While at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to establish the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. For others, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). You may need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..