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 easy to miss. It’s nothing to worry about, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. 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 could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).

The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!

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 generally as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • 30dB or more of hearing loss. That is, the world 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.
  • Some individuals may also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • As the name implies, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, maybe they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • 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.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL 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 biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:

  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • A reaction to drugs: This might include common drugs such as aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most people, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing could happen suddenly.

For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of types 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 your hearing is gone? There are some things that you should do immediately. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. Alternatively, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to treat it.

We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

For most people, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, 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 inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.

Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call 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.