We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be very alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- 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 with regards to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very rapidly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may 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. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most situations, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
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 be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most people, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
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 have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
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 need to do as soon as possible. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to address it.
We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to find out your degree of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some patients, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.