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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 gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur suddenly without any early symptoms.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for instance, they would most likely chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re balding. But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible (and rightfully so).

The same goes for sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting quickly is a good plan!

What is sudden hearing loss?

Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss is not exactly rare, either. Around 1 in 5000 people per year are afflicted by SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • It may seem like your ear is plugged up. Or, in some instances, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically occurs rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, maybe they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be noticeable.
  • In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a big key to success. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most situations, 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?

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

  • Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is elevated by overuse of opioids.
  • Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a good idea to get immunized.
  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud noise: Hearing will decline gradually due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But for some, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.

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 this isn’t always the case. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because many types of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.

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

So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are some essential steps you should take right away. First of all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. That isn’t going to work very well. Alternatively, you should find treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to deal with it.

While at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to identify the amount of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is a completely non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We will also make sure you don’t have any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

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

If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call 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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