We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would most 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 lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is crucial.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not typically as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it’s not really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden hearing loss will impact just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness typically occurs quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first notice 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. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most people, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Numerous types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one day and discover that you can’t hear anything? There are some things that you need to do right away. Never just attempt to play the waiting game. That won’t work very well. Alternatively, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
While at our office, you may take an audiogram to determine the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the test where we make you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..