Hearing loss has a track record for advancing gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.
It can be truly alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would probably 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 key.
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally 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’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
- A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
- It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
- Sudden hearing loss occurs very quickly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people 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 the other person talking.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly 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. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.
What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?
Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:
- Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
- Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines like aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
- Genetic predisposition: In some situations, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
- Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us develop a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the case. Many kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the precise cause isn’t always required for successful treatment.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that you can’t hear anything? There are a couple of things that you should do immediately. Never just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to treat it.
We will most likely perform an audiogram in our office to find out your degree of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many 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 suppresses your immune response.
Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.