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

Hearing loss has a track record for showing itself gradually. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to worry about, you just need the volume on the TV a little louder, no big deal, right? That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.

It can be truly alarming when the condition of your health abruptly changes. When people’s hair falls out slowly over a really long period of time, for example, they would probably chalk it up to aging and simply assume they’re going bald. But you would 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. When this happens, acting fast is essential.

What is sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t generally as common as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people experience. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Around 1 in 5000 individuals per year are afflicted by SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:

  • Sudden deafness occurs very quickly as the name implies. Sudden hearing loss develops within a few days or even within a few hours. As a matter of fact, most people 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.
  • Sudden hearing loss will impact just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. But it is possible for both ears to be impacted by SSHL.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be capable of measuring this on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
  • Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes occurs just 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? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for about 50% of individuals who experience SSHL. But rapid treatment is a significant key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment as soon as possible. After you first notice the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

The best thing you can do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you delay treatment, the greater your chance of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

Here are a few of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:

  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications like aspirin are included in this list. Normally, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Illnesses: There are numerous health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases that have a vaccine.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline gradually due to repeated exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.

The majority of the time, we will be better capable of helping you formulate an effective treatment if we can ascertain what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Understanding the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.

What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?

So what action should you take if you wake up one morning and find that your hearing is gone? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. First and foremost, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s not a good idea! Instead, you should get treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to treat it.

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

For most patients, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some people, these steroids could be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, oral medication might be enough. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL due to an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.

Have you or someone you know suddenly lost the ability to hear? 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.