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

We typically think of hearing loss as something that develops slowly. It can be difficult to detect the symptoms due to this. It’s nothing to concern yourself with, you just need the volume on the TV a bit louder, no big deal, right? Sometimes that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.

It can be quite alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. For instance, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s not a 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.

When you suddenly lose your ability to hear, it’s the same thing. There are some really good reasons why acting quickly is a smart plan!

Sudden hearing loss – what is it?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes known as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or just SSHL for short) isn’t usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals experience. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. Every year, 1 in 5000 people experience SSHL.

Here are some symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • The loss of 30dB or more with regards to your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when your hearing was healthy. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
  • A loud “popping” noise sometimes happens right before sudden hearing loss. But this is not always the case. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Sudden hearing loss will impact just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to affect both ears.
  • It might seem like your ear is plugged up. Or there may be a ringing or buzzing in some instances.
  • Sudden hearing loss happens very rapidly as the name implies. 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 be suddenly impaired. Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear the other person talking.

If you experience SSHL, you might be questioning: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, approximately half of everyone who experiences SSHL will recover within two weeks. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. This means you will want to undergo treatment as quickly as you can. You should schedule an appointment within 72 hours of the start of your symptoms.

The best thing to 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.

So… what causes sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Illnesses: Diseases like mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for significantly different reasons. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart plan to get immunized.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some circumstances, your immune system begins to believe that your inner ear is a threat. Sudden hearing loss can definitely be triggered by this autoimmune disease.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • A reaction to drugs: Common drugs such as aspirin are included in this list. Usually, this also includes cisplatin, quinine, or streptomycin and gentamicin (the last two of which are antibiotics.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can raise your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to loud music or other loud sound: Hearing will decline slowly due to ongoing exposure to loud sound for most people. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will occur suddenly.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This might include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.

Most of the time, we will be better able to help you formulate an effective treatment if we can figure out what type of sudden hearing loss you have. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Many kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the accurate cause is not always required for successful treatment.

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

So what should you do if you wake up one day and find that your hearing is gone? There are some things that you need to do immediately. Above all, you should not just wait for it to clear on its own. That isn’t going to work very well. Instead, you should find treatment within 72 hours. Calling us for immediate treatment is the smartest plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you determine what’s wrong and how to address it.

We will probably undertake 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 certain you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive problem.

For most patients, the first course of treatment will very likely include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids may be injected directly into the ear. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired effects. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.

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

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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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