Sudden Hearing Loss: Act Fast to Save Your Hearing

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

We typically think of hearing loss as something that advances little by little. It can be easy to miss 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 situation, yes, but not always. In some situations, hearing loss can happen abruptly without any early symptoms.

When our health suddenly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the feeling as “alarm”). For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a big deal, you’re just balding! But if all of your hair fell out overnight, you would likely feel obliged to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can (and rightfully so).

When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart idea!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as prevalent as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it’s not really uncommon for people to experience sudden hearing loss. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Sudden deafness occurs very rapidly as the name suggests. This typically means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In most circumstances, 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.
  • In 9 out of 10 cases, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • It may seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • The loss of 30dB or more when it comes to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your earlier baseline had been. You’ll definitely notice the difference, but you will need our assistance to measure it.
  • A loud “popping” sound sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the situation. SSHL isn’t always coupled with this popping noise.

If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will return for about 50% of people who experience SSHL. However, it’s relevant to note that one key to success is rapid treatment. This means you will want to undergo treatment as rapidly as possible. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the onset of your symptoms.

In most situations, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss 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?

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

  • Repeated exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most people, loud sound will cause a slow decline in hearing. But for some people, that decline in hearing could occur suddenly.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.
  • Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. This is a good reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common medications such as aspirin are included in this list. This list can also include certain antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • 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 instances, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed along from parents to children.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can absolutely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.

The majority of the time, we will be better able to help you develop an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Knowing the exact cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because lots of forms of SSHL have similar treatment methods.

If you experience sudden hearing loss – what’s the best course of action?

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you need to do right away. Never just attempt to play the waiting game. That won’t work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to get treatment. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you figure out what’s wrong and how to address it.

We will most likely conduct an audiogram in our office to determine your level of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you put on some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.

For most people, the first round of treatment will likely include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases required. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. You might need to use a medication to suppress your immune response if your SSHL is due to an autoimmune disease.

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

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.