Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You may have certain misconceptions concerning sensorineural hearing loss. Alright, perhaps not everything is false. But there is at least one thing worth clearing up. Normally, we think that sensorineural hearing loss develops over time while conductive hearing loss happens suddenly. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

When You Get sensorineural Hearing Loss, is it Generally Slow Moving?

The difference between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss may be hard to comprehend. So, here’s a quick breakdown of what we mean:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear becomes blocked it can cause this kind of hearing loss. This might consist of anything from allergy-based inflammation to earwax. Usually, your hearing will return when the primary blockage is cleared away.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is usually caused by damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. Your thinking of sensorineural hearing loss when your considering hearing loss from loud noise. Although you may be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t get worse in most cases the damage is irreversible.

It’s common for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss takes place fairly suddenly. But sometimes 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 fairly frequently, it might be helpful to look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s suppose that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one morning and couldn’t hear anything out of his right ear. His alarm clock seemed quieter. So, too, did his barking dog and a crying baby. So, Steven wisely scheduled an appointment to see someone. Of course, Steven was in a hurry. He was just getting over a cold and he had a lot of work to get caught up on. Maybe, while at his appointment, he forgot to talk about his recent ailment. After all, he was thinking about going back to work and most likely left out some other important information. And so Steven was prescribed with some antibiotics and told to return if the symptoms did not diminish by the time the pills had run their course. It’s rare that sensorineural hearing loss occurs suddenly (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 could have considerable consequences.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The Crucial First 72 Hours

There are a variety of situations or ailments which might cause SSNHL. Some of those causes might include:

  • A neurological issue.
  • Blood circulation problems.
  • Inflammation.
  • Head trauma of some kind or traumatic brain injury.
  • Specific medications.

This list could go on for a while. Your hearing expert will have a much better idea of what issues you should be looking out for. But the point is that many of these hidden causes can be dealt with. There’s a chance that you can lessen your long term hearing damage if you deal with these underlying causes before the stereocilia or nerves become permanently damaged.

The Hum Test

If you’re like Steven and you’re having a bout of sudden hearing loss, there’s a quick test you can perform to get a rough concept of where the problem is coming from. And this is how you do it: hum to yourself. Pick your favorite tune and hum a few measures. What do you hear? Your humming should sound the same in both of your ears if your loss of hearing is conductive. (After all, when you hum, the majority of of what you hear is coming from inside your own head.) It’s worth mentioning to your hearing specialist if the humming is louder on one side because it might be sensorineural hearing loss. Sometimes it does happen that there is a misdiagnosis between sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. So when you go in for your hearing test, it’s a good idea to discuss the possibility because there could be severe consequences.

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