Sudden Hearing Loss: Act Fast to Save Your Hearing

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

We normally think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.

It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re 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 you can (and rightfully so).

When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is key.

What is sudden hearing loss?

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:

  • As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically happens quickly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
  • It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • 30dB or greater 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 assistance to measure it.
  • Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.

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?

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

  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing may happen suddenly.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
  • Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.

The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous types of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the precise cause is not always required for effective treatment.

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

So what action should you take if you wake up one day and discover that your hearing is gone? There are a couple of things that you need to do right away. Don’t just attempt to play the waiting game. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.

We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your level of hearing loss (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.

For most patients, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. In other situations, pills might be able to generate the desired results. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety 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 caused by an autoimmune disease.

Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.

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.