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

Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. In some situations, hearing loss can occur suddenly without any early symptoms.

It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! 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.

When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not usually as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it’s not really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Sudden deafness happens very rapidly as the name suggests. 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 questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.

If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most situations, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.

So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?

Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:

  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is increased by overuse of opioids.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some cases, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for 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.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
  • Illnesses: Diseases like 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 smart plan to get immunized.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.

Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.

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

So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? There are a couple of things that you need to do immediately. Don’t just try to wait it out. That’s not a good idea! Rather, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to treat it.

While at our office, you may undergo an audiogram to figure out 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 tone). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of numerous 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..

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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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