We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. 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 bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for instance, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a good idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden hearing loss occurs very rapidly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! 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.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, 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? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as you can. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most circumstances, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the situation. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? There are some things that you should do as soon as possible. First of all, you should not 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 smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
While you’re 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 have you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills may be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You might need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..