We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur suddenly without any early symptoms.
When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would most likely want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
The same goes for sudden hearing loss. When this happens, acting fast is important.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people per year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. 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.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name implies. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 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 right away. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
The best thing to 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?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly 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.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medications such as aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But this isn’t always the case. Numerous kinds of SSHL are addressed similarly, so determining the accurate cause isn’t always required for successful treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and discover that your hearing is gone? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. Never just attempt to wait it out. That’s not a good plan! Instead, you should get treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to determine the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be able to generate the desired results. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). You might need to take a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.