Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
It can be rather alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But you would likely want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. When this occurs, acting fast is important.
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 isn’t really rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Sudden deafness happens very rapidly as the name indicates. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, maybe they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But this is not always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most situations, 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.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- 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.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, like music: For most people, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you need to do right away. Don’t just try to wait it out. 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 figure out what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will probably perform 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 tone). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most patients, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired results. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.