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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. (After all, you’re just turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s usually the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.

It can be quite 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 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 important.

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not usually as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people encounter. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • Sudden hearing loss happens very quickly as the name suggests. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they might take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
  • Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fail. But this is not always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • 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.
  • 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most cases, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
  • Ongoing exposure to loud noise, like music: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some instances, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.

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’re dealing with. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the precise cause is not always required for effective treatment.

If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?

So what action should you take if you wake up one day and discover that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you need to do as soon as possible. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That won’t work very well. Rather, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you figure out what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.

We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to find out your degree of hearing loss (this is a completely non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

For most individuals, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills may be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.

Have you or somebody you know suddenly lost hearing? Contact us today to schedule a hearing 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.