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

We usually think of hearing loss as something that develops gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen all of a sudden without any early symptoms.

When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for instance, they would probably just blame it on 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.

When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is essential.

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 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
  • Sudden deafness happens very rapidly as the name implies. This typically means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

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

So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
  • Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Ongoing exposure to loud noise, like music: Hearing will decline progressively due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.

For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.

What should you do if you have sudden loss of hearing?

So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that you can’t hear anything? There are some things that you need to do immediately. Above all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That won’t work very well. Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest 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 will probably take an audiogram to identify the degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.

The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. 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 may need to take medication that inhibits 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.