We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, 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 occur abruptly and without much warning.
It can be truly alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:
- As the name implies, sudden deafness normally occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past 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.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
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 rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. 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 deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, like music: For most people, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. Above all, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad plan! Alternatively, you should get treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most patients, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired effects. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..