Hearing loss has a track record for developing gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health abruptly 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 schedule 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 simply SSHL for short) isn’t usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually occurs rapidly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most situations, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- 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.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Numerous types of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the exact cause isn’t always necessary for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? There are a couple of things that you need to do right away. Never just attempt to wait it out. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most patients, the first course of treatment will 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. 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 take a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.