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 just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). 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 likely want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people encounter. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Around 1 in 5000 people per year suffer from SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most circumstances, the person will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, maybe they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness 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 rapid treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, 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:
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, like music: For most people, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common medications such as aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take right away. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
For most people, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. 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 take a medication to reduce 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, call us right away for an assessment..