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

We usually think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for instance, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. 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 possible (and rightfully so).

The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!

What is sudden hearing loss?

Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not exactly uncommon for individuals 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:

  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
  • As the name suggests, sudden deafness normally happens rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as you can. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing you can do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:

  • A reaction to drugs: This could include common medications such as aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
  • Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.

The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Many types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the exact cause is not always necessary for effective treatment.

What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?

So what should you do if you wake up one day and discover that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you need to do as soon as possible. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad idea! Alternatively, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you determine what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.

While at our office, you may undertake an audiogram to identify the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.

For most individuals, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.

If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..

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