Sudden Hearing Loss: Act Fast to Save Your Hearing

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

Hearing loss has a reputation for advancing gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms because of this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you simply 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 state of your health suddenly changes. When people’s hair falls out gradually over a very long period of time, for example, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would most likely want to schedule 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. When this occurs, acting fast is essential.

What is sudden hearing loss?

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

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:

  • Sudden hearing loss occurs very rapidly as the name indicates. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning wondering what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call all of a sudden.
  • 30dB or more of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
  • Some individuals might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs right before sudden hearing loss. But that only happens sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.

If you experience SSHL, you may be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, about half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as you can. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

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

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Too much use of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common drugs like aspirin are included in this list. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some cases, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your brain and your ears.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Repeated exposure to loud sound, such as music: Hearing will decline slowly due to repeated exposure to loud sound for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.

For a portion of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us formulate a more effective treatment plan. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Understanding the exact cause isn’t always essential for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.

What should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?

So what should you do if you wake up one morning and discover that you can’t hear anything? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. Never just try to play the waiting game. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. It’s best to make an appointment with us right away. We’ll be able to help you identify what happened and help you find the best course of treatment.

We will probably undertake an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is the examination where we have you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s entirely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive problem.

For most patients, the first round of treatment will most likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no known root cause). You may need to take a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is triggered by an autoimmune disease.

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

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.