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 showing itself slowly. This can make the symptoms easy to miss. (After all, you’re simply turning up the volume on your television now and then, it’s nothing to worry about, right?) That’s normally the case, yes, but not always. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.

It can be truly alarming when the state of your health abruptly changes. For example, 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.

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

What is sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) is not usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most individuals encounter. But it isn’t really uncommon for individuals to experience sudden hearing loss. About 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:

  • Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to disappear. But that only happens sometimes. SSHL isn’t always accompanied by this popping noise.
  • Some people may also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • 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.
  • Sudden hearing loss occurs very rapidly as the name indicates. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. As a matter of fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their hearing! Or, they may take a phone call and question why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater when it comes to your hearing. 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.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will recover for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a major key to success. So you will need to come see us for treatment right away. After you first detect 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. Your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.

So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Head trauma: The communication between your brain and ears can be disrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Problems with your blood flow: This may include anything from a high platelet count to a blockage of the cochlear artery.
  • Illnesses: Diseases such as 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 that have a vaccine.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can sometimes be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • A reaction to drugs: This might include common medicines like aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other common medicines including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss is raised by excessive use of opioids.
  • Autoimmune disease: Your immune system can, in some situations, start to view your inner ear as a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily result in SSHL.
  • Recurring exposure to loud noise, such as music: Hearing will decline progressively due to recurring exposure to loud noise for most people. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will happen suddenly.

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

What should you do if you have sudden hearing loss?

So, if you wake up one morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what’s the best course of action? Well, there are a couple of important steps you should take immediately. Above all, you shouldn’t just wait for it to clear on its own. That’s a bad idea! Rather, you should seek treatment within 72 hours. Getting in touch with us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be able to help you figure out what went wrong and help you find the most effective course of treatment.

While at our office, you will probably undergo an audiogram to figure out the level of hearing loss you’re dealing with (this is the examination where we have you put on 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.

The first course of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other situations, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. SSHL of many root causes (or no known cause) can be effectively 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 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.