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

Hearing loss has a reputation for developing slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out in a single day, you would likely feel compelled to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).

The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not typically as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people encounter. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Sudden hearing loss occurs very quickly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. 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 when it comes to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • Some people may also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. You should make an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.

In most circumstances, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • 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.
  • 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 good idea to get immunized.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • Repeated exposure to loud sound, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common medications like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Numerous types of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the exact cause is not always required 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 you can’t hear anything? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take as soon as possible. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you figure out what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.

We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is the test where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes necessary. For others, pills may be capable of generating the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

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

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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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