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 gradually. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. Sometimes, hearing loss can occur suddenly without any early symptoms.

It can be rather alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! But you would likely want to make 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 really good reasons why acting fast is a smart plan!

What is sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • Sudden hearing loss will impact only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
  • Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, roughly half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most circumstances, it’s a good idea 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 leading causes of sudden hearing loss include the following:

  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs like aspirin. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This could include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Excessive use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.

For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.

What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?

So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly discover you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are some essential steps you should take right away. Never just try to play the waiting game. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.

While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to determine the degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.

For most people, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills may be able to generate the desired effects. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You may need to use a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

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

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.