We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
It can be quite alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for instance, 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 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 plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common medications such as aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an increased risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Recurring exposure to loud sound, such as music: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But this isn’t always the situation. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that you can’t hear anything? There are some 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. 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.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to find out your degree of hearing loss (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most patients, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.