Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
It can be very alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. 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 if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a good idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not typically as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, maybe they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
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: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by overuse of opioids.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most people, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common drugs like aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the situation. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you need to do right away. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That’s not a good idea! 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 happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely perform an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
For most people, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some patients, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You may need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing evaluation.