Image of someone going to ER to treat sudden hearing loss.

In today’s society, neglecting health care is a situation that occurs more often than we’d like to acknowledge.

Think of the parents who continually put the needs of their children in front of their own, making sure their children get proactive and reactive care when necessary, but neglecting to do the same for themselves. The same goes for the working professional who refuses to cancel a meeting to fit in a doctor’s appointment. Then there are those who are afraid of what they could hear so they avoid the doctor’s office preferring to stay ignorant.

But what would you do if you needed more than something to get rid of a sinus infection or your annual flu vaccine? What would you do if you woke up one day with sudden and complete loss of hearing in one if not both ears?

If your answer is just to ignore it until your hearing comes back, chances are it never will. Hearing experts warn that sudden, temporary hearing loss might advance to permanent hearing loss without immediate treatment, especially if the damage is at the nerve level.

What is Sudden Hearing Loss?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), only about half the individuals who experience sudden hearing loss–the sudden loss of 30 decibels or more of hearing ability–will regain some or all of their hearing naturally.

Many people would be shocked to know how frequently sudden hearing loss occurs. As a matter of fact for every 5,000 people, between one and six are estimated to experience sudden hearing loss. But according to the NIDC, if undiagnosed claims were taken into consideration, that number would be significantly higher. That means that about 400,000 (or more) Americans might develop sudden hearing loss every year.

The term “sudden” is a bit of a misnomer in this case as what’s categorically labeled as sudden hearing loss can happen over a few hours or up to three days.

Sudden Hearing Loss; What is The Cause?

Because the onset can occur over hours or days, doctors are usually not able to learn what causes most cases. The unfortunate reality is that determining a cause is possible in just about 10 percent of people diagnosed with sudden hearing loss. Out of those cases that hearing professionals can pinpoint, the most common causes include infections, head trauma, autoimmune diseases, exposure to certain drugs, blood circulation problems, neurological disorders and disorders of the inner ear.

Your best chance of recovering at least some of your regular hearing function, as mentioned, is to get treatment right away.

How do You Handle Sudden Hearing Loss?

In the majority of cases, particularly those where the cause is unknown, the usual course of treatment involves corticosteroids. Decreasing the swelling and reducing inflammation is the goal as with all steroid use.

The preferred method of treatment has evolved since researchers have carried out more studies on sudden loss of hearing and medicine has modernized. Pill form is how these steroids were classically prescribed, but this was a challenge for those who were unable to take oral steroids and those who were worried about the side effects connected with the medication.

An injection of steroids into the eardrum proved to be as effective as an oral steroid according to a 2018 NIDCD clinical trial, even side-stepping the drawbacks to oral alternatives by allowing the medication to go right into the ear. Ear, nose and throat specialist around the country regularly give these injections in the office.

Another reason why getting immediate medical attention is so crucial is that your doctor may order a group of tests that could diagnose the underlying issue behind your sudden hearing loss or another threatening condition. These tests could include blood-work, an MRI or other methods of imaging and even a test of your balance.

We Could be Getting Close to New Treatment For Sudden Hearing Loss

Researchers continue to work on the issue but truthfully, there’s a lack of concrete information about the cause of sudden hearing loss. A potentially safer way of administering steroids is the new development of infusing the drug into microspheres.

While some aspects of sudden hearing loss continue to be a mystery, researchers and medical professionals have proven repeatedly that early treatment improves your chances of restoring the hearing you’ve lost. If you’re experiencing hearing loss, either sudden or gradual, you should contact a hearing professional immediately.