Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen all of a sudden without any early symptoms.
It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! 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 applies to sudden hearing loss. When this occurs, acting fast is key.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t usually as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:
- 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be able to measure this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually happens quickly. This typically 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 questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: 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 major key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
- Illnesses: There are a number of 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 smart idea to get immunized.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
- Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Numerous kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the exact cause isn’t always necessary for successful treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you need to do as soon as possible. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That isn’t going to work very well. Instead, you should find treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you figure out what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.
While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to identify the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (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 sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.
The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some patients, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.
Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing assessment.