Sudden Hearing Loss: Act Fast to Save Your Hearing

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

We normally think of hearing loss as something that advances gradually. 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? In some cases that’s true but often, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also happen abruptly and without much warning.

It can be very alarming when the condition 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 going bald! But you would likely want to make an appointment with your doctor if you woke up one morning and all your hair had fallen out.

When you suddenly develop hearing loss, it’s the same thing. When this happens, acting fast is essential.

What is sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes called sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t usually as common as the longer-term type of hearing loss most people encounter. But sudden hearing loss is not really rare, either. Each year, 1 in 5000 individuals experience SSHL.

The symptoms of sudden hearing loss normally include the following:

  • As the name suggests, sudden deafness typically happens rapidly. This usually means that sudden hearing loss develops over a matter of hours or days. In fact, most individuals wake up in the morning questioning what’s wrong with their ears! Or, they may take a phone call and wonder why they can’t hear anything on the other end.
  • Some individuals notice a loud “pop” before their hearing starts to fade. But this isn’t always the situation. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.
  • Sudden hearing loss will affect just one ear in 9 of 10 cases. That said, it is possible for SSHL to impact both ears.
  • It might seem as if your ear is plugged up. Or there might be a ringing or buzzing in some cases.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater in terms of your hearing. The outside world sounds 30dB quieter than when you had healthy hearing. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.

So, is sudden hearing loss permanent? Actually, within a couple of weeks, hearing will come back for around 50% of people who experience SSHL. But prompt treatment is a big key to success. 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 you can do, in most instances, is to treat SSHL as a medical emergency. The longer you wait, the greater your risk of sudden hearing loss becoming permanent.

What’s the cause of sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Genetic predisposition: In some situations, a greater risk of sudden deafness can be passed down from parents to children.
  • Illnesses: Diseases such as mumps, measles, meningitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been known to cause SSHL, for very different reasons. This is a great reason to get immunized against diseases for which there is a vaccine.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of experiencing sudden hearing loss.
  • Ongoing exposure to loud sound, like music: For most people, loud sound will cause a progressive decline in hearing. But there may be some circumstances where that hearing loss will occur all of a sudden.
  • A reaction to drugs: This might include common drugs such as aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, including streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medications including cisplatin and quinine.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like blocked cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This type of autoimmune disease can easily lead to SSHL.
  • Head trauma: A traumatic brain injury can do much to disrupt the communication between your brain and your ears.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what type of sudden hearing loss you have will help us develop a more effective treatment plan. But at times it doesn’t work like that. Knowing the precise cause isn’t always necessary for effective treatment because many 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 find you’re unable to hear anything, what should you do? Well, there are some important steps you should take as soon as possible. Don’t just try to play the waiting game. That’s a bad plan! You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. Calling us for immediate treatment is the best plan. We’ll be in the best position to help you identify what’s wrong and how to address it.

We will probably perform an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is a totally non-invasive test where you wear some headphones and raise your hand when you hear a tone). We can make sure you don’t have an obstruction or a conductive issue.

The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. An injection of these steroids directly into the ear is in some cases necessary. In other circumstances, oral medication might be enough. SSHL of numerous root causes (or no known cause) can be successfully treated with steroids. For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you may 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..

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.