Hearing loss has a reputation for developing gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only 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 in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
It can be very alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel compelled to make 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 crucial.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t generally as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people encounter. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. About 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- The loss of 30dB or more 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 on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But this is not always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, like music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Numerous types of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.
What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?
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. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That’s not a good idea! Alternatively, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to address it.
We will probably undertake an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. For some people, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills may be capable of generating the desired results. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..