We usually think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
It can be quite alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this happens, acting fast is key.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss develops 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, maybe they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- 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 takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- 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.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, approximately half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as you can. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk 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:
- Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline gradually due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
Most 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 forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some important steps you should take immediately. Never just attempt to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! Instead, you should find treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. 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 triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing assessment.