We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.
It can be truly alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just going bald! 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 applies to sudden hearing loss. When this happens, acting fast is crucial.
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 people to experience sudden hearing loss. About 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help 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 impacted by SSHL.
- Sudden hearing loss happens very rapidly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they might take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances 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:
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. 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 think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Ongoing exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
- Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines such as aspirin. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous kinds of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the accurate cause isn’t always required for effective 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? There are a couple of things that you need to do immediately. Never just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad plan! Rather, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to treat it.
While you’re at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to identify the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Call us today to schedule a hearing exam.