Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You might have some misconceptions regarding sensorineural hearing loss. Alright, maybe not everything is false. But we can clear up at least one false impression. Typically, we think that sensorineural hearing loss develops slowly while conductive hearing loss occurs quickly. It so happens that’s not necessarily true – and that sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss might often be misdiagnosed.

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

The difference between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss might seem difficult to comprehend. So, the main point can be categorized in this way:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear has blockage it can cause this kind of hearing loss. This might be because of earwax, inflammation from allergies or many other things. Conductive hearing loss is normally treatable (and dealing with the root issue will generally result in the recovery of your hearing).
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This kind 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. Even though you may be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t get worse in the majority of instances the damage is irreversible.

It’s normal for sensorineural hearing loss to happen slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss happens fairly suddenly. But that isn’t always the case. Despite the fact that sudden sensorineural hearing loss is not very common, 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 somewhat often, it may be helpful to look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s say that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one morning and couldn’t hear anything in his right ear. His alarm clock seemed quieter. As did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So, Steven prudently made an appointment to see someone. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He was just getting over a cold and he had a lot of work to get caught up on. Maybe, during his appointment, he didn’t remember to talk about his recent ailment. After all, he was worrying about getting back to work and more than likely forgot to mention some other relevant details. And as a result Steven was prescribed with some antibiotics and told to return if the symptoms did not diminish by the time the pills were gone. 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 can have considerable repercussions.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The Critical First 72 Hours

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

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

This list could continue for, well, quite a while. Whatever problems you should be paying attention to can be better understood by your hearing professional. But quite a few of these underlying conditions can be treated and that’s the significant point. And if they’re treated before damage to the nerves or stereocilia becomes permanent, there’s a possibility that you can reduce your long term hearing loss.

The Hum Test

If you’re experiencing a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, you can do a short test to get a rough concept of where the issue is coming from. And it’s fairly easy: hum to yourself. Select your favorite tune and hum a few bars. What does it sound like? Your humming should sound the same in both ears if your hearing loss is conductive. (The majority of what you’re hearing when you hum, after all, is coming from inside your head.) It’s worth mentioning to your hearing professional if the humming is louder on one side because it might be sensorineural hearing loss. Ultimately, it’s possible that sudden sensorineural hearing loss might be wrongly diagnosed as conductive hearing loss. That can have some consequences for your general hearing health, so it’s always a smart idea to point out the possibility with your hearing professional when you go in for an exam.

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