We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But you would most likely want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a smart plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most circumstances, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- A loud “popping” noise 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 might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, about half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. 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 risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as 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.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline gradually due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the case. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and find that you can’t hear anything? There are some things that you need to do as soon as possible. Don’t just attempt to play the waiting game. That’s a bad plan! 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 figure out what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you may take an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
For most individuals, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing assessment.