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 showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re only turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to be concerned about, right?) In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen suddenly and without much warning.

When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just 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.

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

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Long-term hearing loss is more common than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But sudden hearing loss isn’t really rare, either. Approximately 1 in 5000 people per year suffer from SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes takes place just before sudden hearing loss. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • Sudden hearing loss occurs very quickly as the name indicates. Sudden hearing loss happens within a few days or even within a few hours. In most circumstances, the person will wake up and their hearing will suddenly be impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
  • Some people might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for around 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as quickly as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing to do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL 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 some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:

  • A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines such as aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to trigger SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most individuals, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to an obstruction of the cochlear artery.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some instances, begin to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely result in SSHL.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is increased by overuse of opioids.

For a portion of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Many kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so determining the accurate cause is not always necessary for successful treatment.

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

So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that you can’t hear anything? There are some things that you should do immediately. Never just attempt to play the waiting game. That isn’t going to work very well. Rather, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the best course of treatment.

We will most likely undertake an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is the examination where we make you put on headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, 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.

For most patients, the first course of treatment will most likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. Steroids have proven to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You may need to take a medication to inhibit your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

Have you or someone 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.