Sudden Hearing Loss: Act Fast to Save Your Hearing

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

Hearing loss has a reputation for showing itself gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned 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 could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very 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 likely want to make 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 important.

What is sudden hearing loss?

Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:

  • Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.
  • 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually occurs rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
  • In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.

If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a significant 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 onset of your symptoms.

In most cases, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:

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

The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the case. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.

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 you can’t hear anything? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take right away. Don’t just attempt to wait it out. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to treat it.

While you’re at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to establish the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.

The first course of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, pills may be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You might need to use a medication to reduce 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, contact us right away for an assessment..

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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