Most people envision hearing loss as a slowly evolving issue, developing over years or even decades. And for many people, that is how it progresses: It begins slowly and gradually becomes worse. Loss of hearing even happens naturally with age. For that reason, many people delay treating a loss of hearing, even if they suspect that their hearing is getting worse.
A sudden loss of hearing affects fewer people, but it is far more pressing and serious. If you are suffering sudden hearing loss (SHL), you should not delay treatment.
Hearing Loss: Incremental or Sudden
Although most people experience a slow decrease in their hearing ability over time, sudden hearing loss is often more serious and usually indicates an underlying problem. In some cases, sudden losses are symptomatic of another disease or disorder, many which should be treated as soon as possible.
What Causes It?
There are many reasons why people suddenly lose their hearing. Some causes are related to the ear itself, such as Meniere’s disease. Viruses or infections can also cause hearing issues. Head trauma can also bring on a sudden loss of hearing. SHL can also be a symptom of other problems, such as multiple sclerosis, a tumor on the nerve connecting the ear to the brain, or a problem with blood circulation. Some drugs can cause SHL, as can autoimmune diseases.
No matter what the cause, sudden hearing loss should be treated as a medical emergency. Delaying treatment could result in permanent hearing loss.
How Is SHL Defined?
Sudden hearing loss is defined by a loss of hearing of at least 30 decibels over a short period of time. SHL comes on quickly, which could mean that the loss is instantaneous: One moment you can hear,the next you can’t.
In other cases, hearing loss may happen over a period of a few days.It may be rapid and aggressive. You may notice that your hearing is off one morning, and then notice that it continues to deteriorate. SHL is often defined as occurring within 72 hours or less. It often affects only one ear.
Sudden hearing loss affects people in different ways. Some people may notice that their hearing is worse one morning and continues to get worse. Some only notice the impairment when they try to use the affected ear, such as when they hold their phone to one ear during a conversation. Still others will hear a loud, alarming pop just before their hearing disappears. Some patients have tinnitus, a ringing in the ear, or dizziness.
What Is the Treatment?
Unfortunately, the underlying causes of most cases of SHL are never identified; only 10 to 15 percent of cases have identifiable causes. Nevertheless, you should seek prompt treatment because it can help preserve and restore your hearing. To delay treatment could result in a total loss of hearing or deafness in the affected ear.
Sudden hearing loss is often treated under a specialized physician’s care with steroids. Around 85% of people who seek treatment recover at least some of their hearing. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chance of recovering your hearing.
If you experience sudden hearing loss, you should seek immediate treatment. Your audiologist can refer you to the appropriate specialist, and many will see emergency cases so that you can get the prompt treatment you need. If you experience SHL, don’t delay—seek treatment as soon as possible.