We usually think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might 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 balding! But you would likely want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. When this happens, acting fast is crucial.
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 really rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people per year suffer from SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs 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 be suddenly impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to disappear. But this is not always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing you can do, in most instances, 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?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down 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.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Numerous types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause is not always necessary for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some essential steps you should take as soon as possible. First of all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s not a good plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to figure out the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the examination where we have 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 a blockage or a conductive issue.
For most individuals, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might 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 exam.