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

Hearing loss has a track record for developing 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? That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur all of a sudden without any early symptoms.

When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just going bald! 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).

The same applies to sudden hearing loss. When this takes place, acting fast is key.

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t generally as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it’s not exactly uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:

  • As the name implies, sudden deafness normally occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
  • Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
  • The loss of 30dB or more in terms of your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as possible. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines such as aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some instances, an elevated risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
  • Ongoing exposure to loud sound, such as music: For most individuals, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
  • 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.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.

Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Many types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the exact cause is not always required for successful treatment.

If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?

So what action should you take if you wake up one day and discover that you can’t hear anything? There are a couple of things that you need to do as soon as possible. Never just attempt to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to deal with it.

While at our office, you may undertake an audiogram to determine the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first course of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.

If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an evaluation..

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