We usually think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
When our health abruptly 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 no big deal, you’re just going bald! But you would probably want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is key.
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 is not exactly rare, either. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 people per year suffer from SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they might take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes takes place right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of individuals 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.
The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs like aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Repeated exposure to loud sound, like music: Hearing will decline slowly due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
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’re dealing with. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are a couple of things that you should do right away. Never just try to wait it out. That won’t work very well. Rather, you should get treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
While you’re at our office, you may take an audiogram to determine the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL triggered 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 evaluation.