It is estimated that over 37 million adults in America over the age of 18 have some degree of hearing loss. More often than not, this hearing loss develops gradually over the course of years. It can be brought about by prolonged exposure to loud noise, certain medications or even genetic factors. This gradual onset isn’t always the case, though. For some, hearing loss can strike suddenly and unexpectedly leaving many wondering why and what to do next.
What is Sudden Hearing Loss?
According to the American Hearing Research Foundation, sudden hearing loss is considered “greater than 30 dB hearing reduction, over at least three contiguous frequencies, occurring over a period of 72 hours or less.” It may come on all at once, often first thing in the morning, or over the course of several days. The problem may also be accompanied by tinnitus or ringing in the ears making it even more startling and unsettling.
Sudden loss of hearing may be complete or partial and may affect one or both ears. It can usually be attributed to one of several common reasons including:
- Exposure to high decibel noises such as heavy machinery or music without the use of ear plugs.
- Trauma such as a head injury
- Certain diseases such as Lyme disease and Meniere’s disease
- Circulatory problems that can negatively affect the cochlea in the inner ear
- Certain neurologic conditions and disorders such as multiple sclerosis
There are many known, as well as unknown, reasons for sudden hearing loss. Whatever the cause, a hearing health professional is the best person to diagnose and treat your condition.
What to Do When Sudden Hearing Loss Strikes
It is estimated that 5-20 people in 100,000 are impacted by this kind of sensorineural hearing loss. If you are one of those hit with sudden hearing loss, visit a hearing healthcare provider immediately. Your provider will first complete a pure tone audiometry test. This hearing test will help determine if the problem is a result of sound being blocked, such as by fluid in the ear, or of the inner workings of the ear not processing sound that is coming through.
If this first test points to a reason other than a simple sound blockage, the next step for your provider is usually additional tests to try and determine the cause for the sudden hearing loss. Corticosteroids are often prescribed along with these follow-up tests to begin correcting the problem. In many cases, this course of action has been effective in treating the sudden hearing loss.
When this rapid loss of hearing happens, seeking the help of a professional quickly can make all the difference. In some cases, those affected wait to see if the condition will correct on its own, but quick treatment leads to partial, if not complete recovery of hearing in most cases. In fact, a study out of Japan, Prognosis for Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, found that hearing was recovered or fully restored in approximately 80% of subjects treated, giving hope to those with sudden hearing loss.
Much is still unknown about this condition, but as with other audiology topics, research and information is growing every year. If you’re concerned about sudden hearing loss or other hearing problems, contact our office for more information.