Hearing loss has a track record for developing gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for instance, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would most likely want to schedule 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 very good reasons why acting quickly 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 isn’t really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. That is, the world 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 noticeable.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most people, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and discover that your hearing is gone? There are a couple of things that you need to do as soon as possible. Never just try to wait it out. That won’t work very well. 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 in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to address it.
While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to figure out the degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we make you put on 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 obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
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 required. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. 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 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.