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

Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.

It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel compelled 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 prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:

  • Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name implies. This typically means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.

If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, such as 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.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
  • Repeated exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.

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 this isn’t always the situation. Numerous types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause isn’t always necessary for successful treatment.

What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some essential steps you should take immediately. Above all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. Rather, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to address it.

We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to find out your degree of hearing loss (this is the examination where we make you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.

For most individuals, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired results. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). You may need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.

Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.

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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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