We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen suddenly without any early symptoms.
It can be truly alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a really long period of time, for example, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re 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 you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a smart idea!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
- Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
In most cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications 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.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for very different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary 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, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some important steps you should take immediately. First of all, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s not a good plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to identify the amount of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some patients, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired results. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You may need to take a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an evaluation..