We typically 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 only turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, 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 instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! 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 is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a good plan!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss develops 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 suddenly.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, 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 you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as 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 raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Repeated exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline slowly due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. First and foremost, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That isn’t going to work very well. Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you will probably undergo an audiogram to determine the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (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 a blockage or a conductive problem.
For most people, the first round of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. For others, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.