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 because of this. It’s nothing to worry about, you simply need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.

When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). 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 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. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good idea!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • As the name indicates, sudden deafness normally occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.

If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, around 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 quickly as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.

In most cases, it’s a good plan 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?

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

  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is increased by overuse of opioids.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
  • Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.

Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Many types of SSHL are treated similarly, so knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.

If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?

So what action should you take if you wake up one day and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That won’t work very well. Alternatively, you should find treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.

We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to determine your degree of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on 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 course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.

Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Call us 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.