Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.
It can be very alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for instance, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
The same applies to sudden hearing loss. When this takes place, acting fast is essential.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
- The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually occurs quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people 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 anything on the other end.
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most situations, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
- A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous kinds of SSHL are addressed similarly, so determining the precise cause isn’t always required for successful treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take as soon as possible. Never just attempt to wait it out. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to deal with it.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous 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.
If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..