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

We normally think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to this. (After all, you’re only 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 occur suddenly and without much warning.

It can be very alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a very long period of time, for example, 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.

The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a good plan!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) is not generally as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
  • Sudden hearing loss occurs very quickly as the name suggests. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most instances, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear the other person talking.
  • Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.
  • Some people may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, approximately half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two 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 cases, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medications including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline progressively due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for vastly different reasons, can cause SSHL, including 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, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be brought on by this autoimmune disease.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.

Most of the time, we will be better able to help you formulate an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.

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’s the best course of action? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. First of all, you should not just wait for it to go away. That’s a bad plan! Alternatively, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to treat it.

While you’re at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to figure out the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.

For most individuals, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.

Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? Give us a call today to schedule a hearing exam.

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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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