Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You might have some misconceptions concerning sensorineural hearing loss. Alright, maybe not everything is false. But we put to rest at least one false impression. We’re accustomed to thinking about conductive hearing loss occurring suddenly and sensorineural hearing loss sneaking up on you over the years. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Normally Slow Moving?

When we talk about sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you could feel a little confused – and we don’t blame you (the terms can be quite dizzying). So, here’s a basic breakdown of what we’re talking about:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This type of hearing loss is normally caused by damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. When you consider hearing loss caused by loud noises, you’re thinking of sensorineural hearing loss. Although you may be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t become worse in most instances the damage is permanent.
  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear has blockage it can cause this type of hearing loss. This could be because of earwax, swelling from allergies or lots of other things. Conductive hearing loss is usually treatable (and dealing with the underlying issue will usually result in the restoration of your hearing).

It’s normal for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss takes place fairly suddenly. But occasionally it works out differently. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (or SSNHL) is relatively uncommon, but it does exist. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a form of conductive hearing loss it can be especially harmful.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed fairly often, it may be practical to have 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 in his right ear. The traffic outside seemed a bit quieter. So, too, did his crying kitten and crying baby. So, Steven smartly scheduled an appointment to see someone. Of course, Steven was in a rush. He had to get caught up on a lot of work after recovering from a cold. Maybe he wasn’t certain to emphasize that recent ailment during his appointment. And maybe he even accidentally omitted some other important 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. Sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss is relatively rare (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). And so, in the majority of cases, Steven would be just fine. But if Steven was really suffering from SSNHL, a misdiagnosis could have considerable repercussions.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Decisive Hours

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

  • Inflammation.
  • A neurological issue.
  • Problems with blood circulation.
  • Particular medications.
  • Traumatic brain injury or head trauma of some kind.

This list could go on for a while. Your hearing expert will have a much better concept of what issues you should be looking out for. But many of these hidden problems can be treated and that’s the significant point. And if they’re treated before injury to the nerves or stereocilia becomes irreversible, there’s a chance to minimize your long term loss of hearing.

The Hum Test

If you’re having a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, there’s a short test you can perform to get a general idea of where the issue is coming from. And here’s how you do it: hum to yourself. Choose your favorite song and hum a few measures. What does the humming sound like? If your hearing loss is conductive, your humming should sound the same in both of ears. (After all, when you hum, the majority of of what you hear is coming from in your own head.) If your humming is louder in one ear than the other, the loss of hearing may be sensorineural (and it’s worth pointing this out to your hearing specialist). It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. That can have some repercussions for your overall hearing health, so it’s always a smart idea to bring up the possibility with your hearing specialist when you go in for a hearing test.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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