We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no 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 really good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically occurs quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops 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 hearing! Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.
The best thing you can do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
So… what causes sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- A reaction to drugs: This may include common medications like aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, like music: For most people, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
Most 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 like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take immediately. First and foremost, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to determine your degree of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). You might need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.