Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply 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.
It can be quite alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the environment 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 apparent.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines such as aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Many kinds of SSHL are treated similarly, so knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and discover that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you need to do right away. Don’t just attempt to play the waiting game. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to find out your degree of hearing loss (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most patients, the first round of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired effects. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You may need to take a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..