Hearing loss has a reputation for developing gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for instance, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would likely want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!
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. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, maybe they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
- It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, approximately half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should make 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. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
- A reaction to drugs: This could include common medications such as aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is elevated by excessive use of opioids.
- Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, including 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 circumstances, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
Most of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Many types of SSHL are addressed similarly, so determining the accurate cause is not always required for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So what should you do if you wake up one morning and find that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some essential steps you should take immediately. Never just try to play the waiting game. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills may be capable of generating the desired results. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..