We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
It can be quite alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Around 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden hearing loss happens very rapidly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss develops 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 might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, 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 in terms of your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant 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 start of your symptoms.
The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common drugs like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an increased risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most people, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great 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 formulate a more effective treatment. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that your hearing is gone? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. First and foremost, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s not a good plan! Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to address it.
While you’re at our office, you may take an audiogram to figure out the amount of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most patients, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired results. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). You may need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..