Hearing loss has a reputation for showing itself slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.
It can be very alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).
When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a good idea!
Sudden hearing loss – what is it?
Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- As the name implies, sudden deafness usually happens rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
- The loss of 30dB or more 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 help to measure it.
- Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
- Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But this is not always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
- Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as possible. When you first notice 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.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the top causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
- A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- Recurring exposure to loud sound, like music: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
- 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 smart plan to get immunized.
- Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.
If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are some essential steps you should take right away. Never just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad plan! Instead, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.
For most people, the first course of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.
If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..