We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for instance, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would 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 lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!
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 usually as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. About 1 in 5000 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- Sudden deafness happens very rapidly as the name suggests. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, maybe they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing you can 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 permanent.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- 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 elevated 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. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medications like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
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 some things that you should do as soon as possible. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (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 patients, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired results. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing exam.