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

Hearing loss has a track record for advancing gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your TV now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.

It can be very alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But you would likely 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 takes place, acting fast is important.

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 people to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Some individuals may also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be able to measure this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
  • As the name suggests, sudden deafness normally occurs quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people 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 all of a sudden.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a big key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most situations, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss 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?

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

  • Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to recurring exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some people, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by overuse of opioids.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.

The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you formulate an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work that way. 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’s the best course of action?

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you need to do right away. First of all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to treat it.

We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.

For most individuals, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You may need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

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

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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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