Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television once in a while, 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 happen abruptly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just going bald! But you would most likely 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. When this occurs, acting fast is crucial.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually happens quickly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as 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 for which there is a vaccine.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is elevated by excessive use of opioids.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, like music: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
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 case. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to determine the degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most individuals, the first course of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You may need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing assessment.