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 track record for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to worry about, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just 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 is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. When this happens, acting fast is crucial.

What is sudden hearing loss?

Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But this is not always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
  • It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.

If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing you can do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Genetic predisposition: In some situations, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good idea to get immunized.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be caused by this autoimmune disease.
  • Repeated exposure to loud sound, like music: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some circumstances 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.
  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs such as aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.

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. Numerous kinds of SSHL are addressed similarly, so determining the accurate cause is not always required for successful treatment.

What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?

So what should you do if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. Don’t just attempt to play the waiting game. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to address it.

While at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to determine the degree of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

For most people, the first course of treatment will most likely include steroids. For some patients, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. 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. 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 exam.

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.