You wake up one morning and can’t hear out of your left ear. It could be a bit muffled or ringing could take over. What do you do? At first, you might assume it’s a head cold or residual hearing loss from a loud concert or night out, but at what point should you see your audiologist? This might be something you ignore, hoping it goes away, but sudden hearing loss could lead to further problems down the road.
Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss
Thousands of Americans experience sudden hearing loss every year, and the cause can be varied. In some cases, doctors cannot determine the direct cause of the hearing loss, though it could be the immune system attacking hearing. Other causes include new medication side effects, head trauma, Meniere’s disease, infection, damage within the ear, or a decrease in blood flow to the ear. Even basic bodily events such as sneezing have the potential to cause damage within the ear; anything that damages the blood vessel connecting the hearing system causes hearing loss. Sometimes the hearing loss is sudden, while other times it gradually devolves over 72 hours. The average ages of someone experiencing this type of hearing loss is mid to late 40s, and men and women have the same likelihood of experiencing the damage.
Treating Sudden Hearing Loss
Damage can become permanent within 72 hours if left untreated, so timeliness is critical when treating sudden hearing loss. Currently, audiologists are able to prescribe steroids to decrease swelling and restore hearing, as well as carbogen therapy and vasodilators (medicines that open blood vessels). However, steroids have a variety of side effects, so having a drug specific to hearing loss will be more efficient. AM-111 is a new drug going through FDA testing, and if approved, will be able to save hearing by stopping damage. With this new drug, nerves and hearing cells could be protected to prevent further damage and reinstate proper hearing. Potential side effects do include dizziness or ringing in the ear. Whether or not this new drug makes it to the market, it is imperative to contact your audiologist within 72 hours of any sudden hearing loss.
Preventing Sudden Hearing Loss This Summer
Lawn mowers, fireworks, and swimming are summertime staples, but they are also potential triggers for hearing loss. Loud sounds can rupture the eardrum or damage hair follicles within the ear, so they should be avoided. When swimming, take precautions, such as earplugs, to prevent water buildup within the ear canal. For the most part, water will drain itself from the ear, but if it becomes trapped behind the eardrum, it can cause infection and great pain. There are over the counter swimmer’s ear medications that can resolve this issue, though it should be treated quickly before turning into a greater issue. Kids tend to experience swimmer’s ear most often, so protect even the young’s hearing!
If after 48 hours, your hearing is not restored, contact your audiologist immediately. 72 hours tends to be the threshold where temporary hearing loss becomes permanent.