Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. 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 abruptly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just going bald! But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly 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) is not usually as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- Sudden deafness happens very rapidly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the person 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? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But rapid treatment is a big 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.
The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for very different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Numerous types of SSHL are addressed similarly, so determining the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you should do right away. Never just attempt to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most individuals, 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 may 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 use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.