”I hear better out of this one.” “It’s nothing to worry about.” “It’s not ‘bad’ hearing loss. It just started today.”
People say a lot of things when they’re experiencing one-sided hearing loss. It becomes an hourly routine, trying to hear better.
But there’s an important reason you should never ignore single-sided hearing problems.
What Is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL)?
Sensorineural hearing loss is the kind of hearing loss in which the tiny nerves in the ear are damaged or die. Once this happens, this part of your body doesn’t have a way to heal itself. It typically gets progressively worse as you get older, but it’s not caused by aging.
The most common culprit is noise, though diet, exercise, lifestyle choices and some medications also play a part.
When you experience the “sudden” kind, the hearing is lost typically in one ear over a period of several days. Over this short timeframe, sound slowly becomes more and more muffled. The ear loses its ability to hear certain frequencies or pitches.
As the unilateral hearing loss progresses, you’ll notice that understanding becomes more difficult and sounds may become grating. Without these frequencies, you can’t hear the subtle changes in a human voice as a person speaks. Without your full range of pitches, the complexities that make music or other sounds so sweet are lost.
Is SSHL Treatable?
Unlike the sensorineural hearing loss that happens over a matter of years, SSHL is often treatable and reversible. Tell your hearing specialist that the hearing loss was sudden to ensure you get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
If not treated promptly during the initial few days, the hearing loss may become permanent and irreversible. But if treated quickly, around 50% of patients will recover most of the hearing they had before the symptoms started.
In around 15% of cases, a hearing professional can identify a single primary cause. They can then treat this cause and reduce any inflammation that resulted.
Inflammation wreaks havoc anywhere it’s present. It finishes what the cause started, stealing your hearing.
What Causes SSHL?
Once diagnosed as SSHL, the hearing professional gets to work identifying the cause. Some of the most common causes include:
- Poor blood circulation / High blood pressure
- Head trauma
- A very loud noise (such as a gunshot, firecracker, or lightning at close range)
- Lyme disease
- Meniere Disease
- Weak blood vessels (usually from diabetes)
- Poisonous snake bite
- Autoimmune diseases
- A tumor
- Neurologic diseases
- Ototoxic drugs
Ototoxic drugs include any drug that causes nerve damage in the inner ear. These include:
- Some industrial strength solvents & cleaners
- Common OTC painkillers taken several times a week over a long period of time (Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, aspirin)
- Opiates taken long-term
- Some antibiotics
- Some diuretics
- Chemo drugs
Bring any medications you’re taking, prescription or otherwise, when you visit a hearing professional.
How Common Is SSHL?
One out of 5000 people each year will be diagnosed with sudden deafness. That’s about 4000 per year.
Most sufferers are under 50. Ninety percent of SSHL happens in one ear.
People most commonly become aware of this concerning form of hearing loss when waking up to an alarm. One side sounds louder than the other. Or they notice it when they put a phone up to the affected ear. In rare instances, people hear a “pop” just before the condition starts to progress.
You might also experience vertigo (extreme dizziness) and tinnitus (ringing of the ear) as the world gets quieter.
Researchers are studying this phenomenon. They want to learn more about why it happens and how to improve the success rate among those who do get diagnosed early.
Contact a hearing specialist to schedule an appointment today. Let the receptionist know that you’re experiencing sudden hearing loss to convey the urgent nature of the situation.
If you can’t get into to see a doctor ASAP, you should visit the ER. Know that waiting may impact the effectiveness of treatment.
If all of your hearing is not restored, hearing aids are a very viable option that will improve your quality of life.