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 developing gradually. It can be easy to miss the symptoms due to 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 normally the situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can occur abruptly without any early symptoms.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one might even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For instance, 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 probably want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.

When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. When this occurs, acting fast is essential.

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Long-term hearing loss is more prevalent than sudden hearing loss or SSHL for short. But it’s not really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Approximately 1 in 5000 individuals per year suffer from SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss usually include the following:

  • 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 hear a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fail. But this isn’t always the case. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • As the name implies, sudden deafness normally happens quickly. This generally means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, the individual will wake up and their hearing will be suddenly impaired. Or, perhaps they’re unable to hear what the other person is saying on the other end of a phone call suddenly.
  • 30dB or greater of hearing loss. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You’ll certainly notice the difference, but you will need our help to measure it.
  • It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might 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 people who experience SSHL. However, it’s significant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as you can. After you first detect 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 risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent increases the longer you wait.

So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?

Here are some of the biggest causes of sudden hearing loss:

  • Being continuously exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud noise for most people. But there might be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur abruptly.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • 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 good plan to get immunized.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
  • Genetic predisposition: In some cases, an elevated risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
  • A reaction to drugs: This may include common medications such as aspirin. Typically, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.

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 at times it doesn’t work that way. Numerous types of SSHL are treated similarly, so determining the exact cause is not always required for effective treatment.

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

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you’re unable to hear anything, what’s the best course of action? There are a couple of things that you should do right away. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to find treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to deal with it.

We will most likely perform 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 completely non-invasive). We can make sure you don’t have a blockage or a conductive issue.

For most people, the first round of treatment will likely include steroids. For some patients, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. Steroids have been known to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a large number of root causes (or with no known root cause). For SSHL triggered by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that inhibits your immune response.

If you or somebody you know has suddenly lost the ability to hear, call us right away for an assessment..

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.