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 develops 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 little louder, no big deal, right? In some cases that’s true but in some cases, it isn’t. It turns out hearing loss can also occur abruptly and without much warning.

When our health abruptly changes, it tends to get our attention (one could even describe the emotion as “alarm”). For example, if your hair falls out a little bit at a time, it’s no 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.

The same is true when you develop sudden hearing loss. There are some very good reasons why acting fast is a smart plan!

What is sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (sometimes referred to as sudden deafness or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or simply SSHL for short) isn’t typically as prevalent as the longer-term kind of hearing loss most people experience. But sudden hearing loss isn’t exactly rare, either. Somewhere around 1 in 5000 individuals a year suffer from SSHL.

Here are a few symptoms of sudden hearing loss:

  • Some individuals might also have a feeling of fullness in the ear. Or, in some cases, a ringing or buzzing in the ear.
  • Sudden hearing loss happens very quickly as the name implies. This usually means that sudden hearing loss occurs over a matter of hours or days. In most cases, 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.
  • The loss of 30dB or greater with regards to your hearing. That is, the world sounds 30dB quieter from whatever your previous baseline had been. You won’t be able to measure this by yourself, it’s something we will diagnose. However, it will be apparent.
  • In 9 out of 10 instances, sudden hearing loss affects only one ear. But it is possible for both ears to be affected by SSHL.
  • Some people notice a loud “pop” before their hearing begins to fade. But that only occurs sometimes. It’s possible to experience SSHL without hearing this pop.

If you experience SSHL, you may be wondering: is sudden deafness permanent? Well, approximately half of everybody who experiences SSHL will recover within a couple of weeks. However, it’s important to note that one key to success is prompt treatment. This means you will want to get treatment as rapidly as you can. When you first detect the symptoms, you should wait no longer than 72 hours.

In most cases, it’s a good plan to treat sudden hearing loss as a medical emergency. Your chances of sudden hearing loss becoming irreversible increases the longer you wait.

So… what triggers sudden hearing loss?

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

  • Ongoing exposure to loud noise, such as music: For most people, loud noise will cause a gradual decline in hearing. But there may be some situations where that hearing loss will happen abruptly.
  • Autoimmune disease: In some situations, your immune system starts to think that your inner ear is a threat. This kind of autoimmune disease can definitely lead to SSHL.
  • Problems with your blood flow: Things like obstructed cochlear arteries and high platelet counts are included in this category.
  • Head trauma: The communication between your ears and your brain can be interrupted by a traumatic brain injury.
  • Reaction to pain medication: Overuse of opioid-related drugs and pain medication can increase your risk of developing sudden hearing loss.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetic predisposition can in some cases be responsible for sudden hearing loss.
  • Illnesses: There are a number of health conditions that, for significantly different reasons, can trigger SSHL, such as multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps. So if a disease has a vaccine, it’s a smart idea to get immunized.
  • A reaction to drugs: This could include common medicines such as aspirin. This list can also include some antibiotics, like streptomycin and gentamicin, and other prevalent medicines including cisplatin and quinine.

For a percentage of patients, knowing what kind of sudden hearing loss you have will help us create a more effective treatment plan. But this isn’t always the situation. Numerous kinds of SSHL are managed similarly, so knowing the precise cause is not always required for successful treatment.

If you experience sudden hearing loss – what should you do?

So, if you wake up in the morning and suddenly find you can’t hear anything, what should you do? There are a couple of things that you should do as soon as possible. Never just try to wait it out. That isn’t going to work very well. You should wait no longer than 72 hours to seek treatment. It’s best to schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. We’ll be in the best position to help you establish what’s wrong and how to address it.

We will probably conduct an audiogram in our office to identify your degree of hearing loss (this is the test where we make you wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear beeping, it’s completely non-invasive). We will also make sure you don’t have any blockages or a possible conductive cause for your hearing loss.

The first round of treatment will usually include steroids. For some individuals, these steroids might be injected directly into the ear. For others, pills might be capable of generating the desired results. Steroids have proven to be quite effective in treating SSHL with a wide variety of root causes (or with no confirmed root cause). For SSHL caused by an autoimmune disease, you may need to take medication that suppresses your immune response.

If you or someone 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.