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 track record for showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your TV 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 abruptly and without much warning.

It can be quite alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But you would likely want to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.

When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!

What is sudden hearing loss?

Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people a year suffer from SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
  • Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss develops 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, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.

If you experience SSHL, you might be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everyone who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most situations, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines like aspirin. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Ongoing exposure to loud sound, such as music: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Many types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause is not always necessary for effective treatment.

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

So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you need to do immediately. Never just try to wait it out. That isn’t going to work very well. Instead, you should get treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to treat it.

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

For most patients, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.

Have you or someone you know suddenly lost hearing? Call 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.