Sudden Hearing Loss: Act Fast to Save Your Hearing

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

We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be difficult to detect 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 be concerned about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.

It can be quite alarming when the state of your health suddenly changes. For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just going bald! But you would most 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 develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this takes place, acting fast is crucial.

What is sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) is not generally as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 people a year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • 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 apparent.
  • As the name implies, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. In most instances, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, maybe they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.

If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness 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 get treatment as rapidly as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing to do, in most situations, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
  • Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good plan to get immunized.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is elevated by excessive use of opioids.
  • Repeated exposure to loud noise, like music: For most people, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
  • A reaction to drugs: This could include common medicines like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.

Most of the time, we will be better capable of helping you develop an effective treatment if we can determine what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But this isn’t always the case. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of forms 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 discover that you can’t hear anything? There are some things that you should do immediately. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That’s not a good plan! Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to address it.

We will probably undertake an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.

The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. For some people, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. You might need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.

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