We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to 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 situation, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.
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 instance, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would most 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 develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this happens, acting fast is essential.
What is sudden hearing loss?
Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.
Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:
- It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
- In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
- The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your past baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
- As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually occurs quickly. This typically means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most circumstances, the person will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. 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 occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, roughly half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within two weeks. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. When you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.
The best thing to do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.
So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?
Some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:
- Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
- Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
- A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
- Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can cause SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
- Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
- Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
- Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.
What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?
So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? There are a couple of things that you need to do immediately. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.
While at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to identify the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). 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 sometimes required. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits 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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