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

We normally think of hearing loss as something that develops little by little. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) Sometimes that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. 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 emotion as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would most likely just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re 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 lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this occurs, acting fast is key.

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

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

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • As the name indicates, sudden deafness typically happens rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their ears! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the environment sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Well, around half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

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

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
  • Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, including multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by excessive use of opioids.
  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common drugs like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some situations, a greater risk of sudden hearing loss can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Recurring exposure to loud sound, such as music: For most people, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous types of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment.

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

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are some things that you should do right away. Never just attempt to wait it out. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the most effective course of treatment.

While at our office, you may undertake an audiogram to establish the degree of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the test where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, 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 sometimes required. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.

If you or somebody 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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