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

We usually think of hearing loss as something that advances slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? That’s usually the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.

It can be rather alarming when the condition of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for instance, they would probably just blame it on aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would probably want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.

The same applies to sudden hearing loss. There are some really good reasons why acting fast is a smart plan!

What is sudden hearing loss?

Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not exactly uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. About 1 in 5000 people a year suffer from SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:

  • In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss impacts only one ear. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. 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 noticeable.
  • Some people hear a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping sound.
  • Some individuals may also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This generally means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most people wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.

If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, around half of everybody who experiences SSHL will get better within a couple of weeks. But rapid treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.

In most situations, it’s a good strategy to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible.

So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?

Some of the leading 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.
  • 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 prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Repeated exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some situations, an increased risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
  • Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
  • 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 able to help you develop 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 types of SSHL are addressed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause is not always necessary for effective treatment.

What should you do if you experience sudden loss of hearing?

So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are a couple of essential steps you should take as soon as possible. Don’t just try to wait it out. That’s a bad idea! Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. It’s best to make an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you identify what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.

We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to find out your level of hearing loss (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also rule out any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first round of treatment will typically include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.

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

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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.