Many of us take our hearing for granted. What would happen if you woke up one day and you couldn’t hear? Unfortunately, this is the reality many people face each and every year in the United States.
Sudden hearing loss (SHL) is worrisome because you don’t know when to expect it. If you’ve worried about the possibility of SHL, there are some things you should know—including steps you can take to protect your hearing.
True to the Name
For most people, sudden hearing loss is true to its name. It happens suddenly and without much warning at all. Some people wake up one day and notice they’re not hearing as well as they were the day before. Others will only notice when they hold the phone up to the affected ear or pop an earbud into the ear.
For others, SHL may be preceded by a loud pop, followed by the sensation of the ear being plugged and noise being muted or absent.
In some cases, SHL isn’t quite so dramatic: It happens over a period of hours or a few days. Even in these situations, the loss is still considered “sudden,” in contrast to more gradual hearing loss, which happens over months or even years.
Who Is Affected?
SHL typically affects adults in their 40s and 50s, and experts estimate one in every 5,000 people will experience a sudden loss of hearing. However, it may be even more common, because many cases go undiagnosed and unreported.
Certain people may be at risk for SHL. Some already have ear problems, such as Meniere’s disease. Other risk factors include trauma to the head, autoimmune diseases, and certain infectious diseases. There are various understandings and possible explanations for SHL which is why involving a medical consultation is critical.
How Is It Diagnosed?
The medical definition of sudden hearing loss is a loss of hearing in one or both ears above 30 decibels, this would make normal speech sound like a whisper. The loss happens rapidly, often suddenly, or over a period of hours or days.
You may hear a loud pop before your hearing disappears, but this only happens to some people. The majority of individuals experiencing SHL, report that it occurs quietly or without any particular event. Other people with SHL may also experience dizziness and tinnitus.
In most cases, there’s no identifiable cause. It’s one of the reasons SHL worries many people: There are risk factors, but they don’t indicate whether or not you’ll experience SHL. You may be in perfect health and still suffer a sudden loss of hearing!
How Is It Treated?
If you experience SHL, you should treat it as a medical emergency. Contact an audiologist or ear specialist immediately. Many people wait or simply don’t contact a doctor at all, assuming their SHL is due to allergies or the ear being plugged. In these cases, people often suffer from subsequent hearing complications.
If you seek prompt medical attention, however, there’s a chance some of your hearing can be restored.
What Can You Do?
If you experience sudden hearing loss or similar symptoms contact an audiologist immediately or request a referral to an ENT or otologist. In many cases, an audiologist should work you in immediately for testing and then provide an appropriate referral. There are a variety of medical treatments available and even some medication trials so getting immediate attention is critical. Associated Audiologists is equipped to help with a protocol for immediate testing and referrals to several specialists in the area who might be able to help.