We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly 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 just blame it on 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 develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t generally as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people a year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually occurs rapidly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most circumstances, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated 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 kind of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines like aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the situation. Many types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the exact cause is not always required for effective treatment.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some important steps you should take immediately. Don’t just attempt to play the waiting game. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to address it.
We will most likely perform an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing evaluation.