We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
It can be rather 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 balding! But you would probably want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!
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 prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- 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.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very rapidly as the name suggests. This usually 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, maybe they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. But prompt treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most situations, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline slowly due to recurring exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the case. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you need to do immediately. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you figure out what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
While you’re at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to establish the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some patients, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). You might need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Call us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.