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

We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, 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 suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re balding. But you would probably want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.

When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this occurs, acting fast is crucial.

What is sudden hearing loss?

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

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:

  • Some individuals might experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most instances, 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.
  • 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, approximately half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as you can. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most cases, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • 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.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Ongoing exposure to loud sound, like music: For most people, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.

If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?

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 right away. Never just attempt to play the waiting game. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to address it.

We will probably 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 beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Call us today to schedule a hearing 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.

Medical information dates as new research comes out all the time - if you have a concern about your hearing, please call us.

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