Man suffering from sudden hearing loss sitting on the couch touching his ear.

We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen abruptly without any early symptoms.

When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just 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 applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!

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. Around 1 in 5000 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • 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 assistance to measure it.
  • As the name implies, sudden deafness usually occurs quickly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
  • Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.

If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.

The best thing you can do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL 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:

  • Repeated exposure to loud noise, like music: For most people, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by overuse of opioids.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some instances, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • A reaction to drugs: This could include common medications like aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous types of SSHL are addressed similarly, so knowing the exact cause is not always necessary for effective treatment.

What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are some things that you need to do right away. Above all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That won’t work very well. Alternatively, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you determine what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.

While at our office, you may take an audiogram to establish the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.

For most people, the first course of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you might 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 evaluation.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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