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

We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. This can make the symptoms difficult to detect. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen abruptly without any early symptoms.

It can be truly alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no big deal, you’re just balding! But you would likely want to schedule 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 really good reasons why acting fast is a smart plan!

What is sudden hearing loss?

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

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • 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 on your own, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
  • Some individuals might also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect only one ear in 9 of 10 cases. Having said that, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • As the name suggests, sudden deafness usually occurs rapidly. This typically means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most instances, the person will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, perhaps they’re not able to hear the other person talking on the other end of a phone call suddenly.

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

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

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can be disruptive to the communication between your ears and your brain.
  • Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for greatly different reasons, can cause SSHL, like multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud noise: For most people, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But for some, that decline in hearing may occur suddenly.
  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common medicines like aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you’re dealing with will help us create a more effective treatment. But at times it doesn’t work that way. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment strategies.

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

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? There are some things that you should do as soon as possible. Don’t just attempt to wait it out. That’s not a good idea! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us immediately. We’ll be able to help you determine what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.

While at our office, you will probably undertake an audiogram to identify the level of hearing loss you’re experiencing (this is the examination where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also rule out any obstructions or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

For most patients, the first round of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is sometimes required. In other situations, oral medication may be enough. Steroids have been known to be very effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). You may need to use a medication to reduce your immune response if your SSHL is caused by an autoimmune disease.

If you or someone you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, contact 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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