Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). 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 in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not usually as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. About 1 in 5000 people a year suffer from SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better 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 get treatment as rapidly as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
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 might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline slowly due to recurring exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the case. Many kinds of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the precise 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 find you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are a couple of things that you need to do as soon as possible. Never just try to play the waiting game. That isn’t going to work very well. Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test 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.
The first course of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Call us today to schedule a hearing assessment.