Hearing loss has a track record for developing gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
It can be truly alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for example, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a good plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t generally as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people encounter. But it’s not really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually occurs quickly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL 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:
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most people, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one day and discover that your hearing is gone? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take right away. Don’t just attempt to wait it out. That’s not a good plan! Instead, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to address it.
While you’re at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to identify the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to use a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..