Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You might have some misconceptions about sensorineural hearing loss. Alright – not everything is wrong. But we put to rest at least one mistaken impression. Generally, we think that sensorineural hearing loss comes on over time while conductive hearing loss occurs quickly. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Usually Slow-moving?

When we talk about sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you might feel a little disoriented – and we don’t blame you (the terms can be quite dizzying). So, the main point can be categorized in like this:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss is commonly due to damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. Your thinking of sensorineural hearing loss when your considering hearing loss caused by loud noise. In most instances, sensorineural hearing loss is essentially irreversible, although there are treatments that can keep your hearing loss from degenerating further.
  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is the result of a blockage in the outer or middle ear. This might consist of anything from allergy-driven swelling to earwax. Conductive hearing loss is commonly treatable (and dealing with the underlying problem will usually bring about the recovery of your hearing).

Commonly, conductive hearing loss happens rather suddenly, whereas sensorineural hearing loss moves somewhat slowly. But occasionally it works out differently. Despite the fact that sudden sensorineural hearing loss is very uncommon, it does exist. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a type of conductive hearing loss it can be especially harmful.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat often, it may be helpful to take a look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s say that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one day and couldn’t hear anything out of his right ear. The traffic outside seemed a bit quieter. As did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So he did the practical thing and scheduled a hearing assessment. Of course, Steven was in a hurry. He had to get caught up on a lot of work after recovering from a cold. Maybe, while at his appointment, he forgot to mention his recent ailment. And maybe he even unintentionally left out some other relevant information (he was, after all, already thinking about getting back to work). So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was told to return if his symptoms persisted. Rapid onset of sensorineural hearing loss is fairly rare (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). So, Steven would normally be fine. But if Steven was indeed suffering with SSNHL, a misdiagnosis can have substantial repercussions.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Critical Hours

There are a wide variety of situations or ailments which might cause SSNHL. Including some of these:

  • Particular medications.
  • Head trauma of some kind or traumatic brain injury.
  • Problems with blood circulation.
  • A neurological condition.
  • Inflammation.

This list could go on for, well, quite a while. Whatever problems you need to be paying attention to can be better recognized by your hearing specialist. But a lot of these hidden conditions can be treated and that’s the significant point. There’s a possibility that you can lessen your lasting hearing damage if you deal with these hidden causes before the stereocilia or nerves become permanently harmed.

The Hum Test

If you’re having a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, there’s a short test you can do to get a general concept of where the problem is coming from. And it’s fairly easy: just begin humming. Pick your favorite song and hum a few measures. What do you hear? If your hearing loss is conductive, your humming should sound the same in both of ears. (After all, when you hum, most of what you hear is coming from inside your own head.) It’s worth discussing with your hearing professional if the humming is louder on one side because it might be sensorineural hearing loss. It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. That can have some consequences for your general hearing health, so it’s always a smart idea to bring up the possibility with your hearing professional when you go in for your appointment.

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