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Sudden Hearing Loss: Act Fast to Save Your Hearing

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

Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might 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 chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel compelled to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).

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

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Every year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:

  • Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • As the name implies, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
  • Some individuals might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • Some individuals hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.

In most cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances 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 brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some instances, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines such as aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
  • Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the situation. Many types of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the exact cause is not always necessary for effective treatment.

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

So what should you do if you wake up one morning and discover that your hearing is gone? Well, there are some essential steps you should take immediately. Never just try to wait it out. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you identify what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.

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

For most patients, the first course of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. For others, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Call us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.

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.