We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just 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.
The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
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. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden hearing loss happens very quickly 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 wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they might take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good idea to get immunized.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the case. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and discover that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some important steps you should take as soon as possible. Never just attempt to wait it out. That’s not a good idea! Instead, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to identify 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 entirely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most patients, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. For others, pills might be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Call us today to schedule a hearing assessment.