Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply 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 happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
It can be very alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for instance, they would most likely just blame it on 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 quickly is a good plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier 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.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name implies. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most instances, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type 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.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as 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: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the case. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
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 your hearing is gone? There are some things that you need to do as soon as possible. Never just attempt to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to determine the amount of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most people, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. 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 might need to take a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing evaluation.