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

We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops gradually. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (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 usually 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 state of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for example, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would probably want to make 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. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

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

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:

  • 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.
  • Sudden deafness happens very quickly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss happens 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 hearing! Or, maybe they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping sound.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as you can. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing you can do, in most cases, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Recurring exposure to loud sound, such as music: Hearing will decline progressively due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But there might be some situations where that hearing loss will happen all of a sudden.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
  • Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Numerous kinds of SSHL are addressed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause is not always required for effective treatment.

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

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are some essential steps you should take right away. Never just attempt to play the waiting game. That’s not a good plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to treat it.

While at our office, you will probably take an audiogram to determine the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

For most patients, the first round of treatment will very likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other circumstances, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You might need to take a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact us right away for an assessment..

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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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