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 showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. It’s nothing to worry about, you simply need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur suddenly and without much warning.

When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But you would probably 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. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!

What is sudden hearing loss?

Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss commonly include the following:

  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
  • Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • As the name indicates, sudden deafness usually happens rapidly. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most cases, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, maybe they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs just before sudden hearing loss. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

Here are some of the leading causes of sudden hearing loss:

  • Illnesses: Diseases including mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for wildly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline progressively due to recurring exposure to loud sound for most people. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some cases, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed along from parents to children.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.

For a portion 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 that way. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of types of SSHL have similar treatment methods.

If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?

So what should you do if you wake up one morning and find that you can’t hear anything? There are some things that you need to do right away. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s not a good plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to deal with it.

We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s entirely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You may need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.

Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Give us a call 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.