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 slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. Sometimes, hearing loss can happen abruptly without any early symptoms.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for example, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. 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).

When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
  • As the name implies, sudden deafness typically occurs quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most circumstances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • Some people might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens 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 might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. You should schedule 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 delay treatment, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

Here are a few of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:

  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of developing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Ongoing exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Many types of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the accurate cause is not always necessary for effective 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? Well, there are some important steps you should take right away. Never just attempt to wait it out. That’s a bad plan! Rather, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us right away. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to deal with it.

We will probably undertake an audiogram in our office to determine 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 blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.

Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Contact us today to schedule a hearing assessment.

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.