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

Hearing loss has a reputation for developing gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). 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 most 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 occurs, acting fast is important.

What is sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t usually as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • As the name implies, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
  • 30dB or more 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 apparent.
  • It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, around half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.

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

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • A reaction to drugs: This might include common drugs like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline progressively due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
  • Illnesses: Diseases such as 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 smart plan to get immunized.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.

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 case. Many types of SSHL are treated similarly, so knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for successful treatment.

What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are some important steps you should take immediately. Never just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.

We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.

For most individuals, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). You might need to use a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call 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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