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Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You may have some misconceptions about sensorineural hearing loss. Alright, maybe not everything is false. But we can clear up at least one false belief. We’re accustomed to thinking about conductive hearing loss developing all of a sudden and sensorineural hearing loss creeping up on you as time passes. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

When You Develop sensorineural Hearing Loss, is it Commonly Slow Moving?

The difference between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss could be difficult to comprehend. So, the main point can be broken down in like this:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear has blockage it can cause this kind of hearing loss. This might be due to earwax, swelling from allergies or lots of other things. Conductive hearing loss is usually treatable (and dealing with the underlying problem will generally bring about the restoration of your hearing).
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is commonly caused by damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. When you consider hearing loss caused by intense noises, you’re thinking of sensorineural hearing loss. Even though you might be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t get worse in the majority of cases the damage is permanent.

It’s normal for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over time while conductive hearing loss happens somewhat suddenly. But occasionally it works out differently. Even though sudden sensorineural hearing loss is very uncommon, it does exist. And SSNHL can be especially damaging when it isn’t treated properly because everyone thinks it’s an unusual case of conductive hearing loss.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat often, it might be helpful to take a look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s imagine that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one morning and couldn’t hear in his right ear. His alarm clock sounded quieter. So, too, did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So, Steven smartly scheduled an appointment to see someone. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He had to catch up on a lot of work after getting over a cold. Perhaps he wasn’t sure to emphasize that recent ailment during his appointment. After all, he was worrying about going back to work and probably left out some other relevant information. And as a result Steven was prescribed with some antibiotics and was told to return if the symptoms did not diminish by the time the pills had run their course. 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 ok. But if Steven was indeed suffering with SSNHL, a misdiagnosis can have considerable repercussions.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The Critical First 72 Hours

SSNH can be caused by a range of ailments and situations. Including some of these:

  • Certain medications.
  • Blood circulation problems.
  • A neurological condition.
  • Inflammation.
  • Traumatic brain injury or head trauma of some kind.

This list could go on for, well, quite a while. Whatever concerns you should be paying attention to can be better understood by your hearing professional. But the point is that lots of of these hidden causes can be managed. And if they’re treated before injury to the nerves or stereocilia becomes permanent, there’s a possibility that you can lessen your long term hearing loss.

The Hum Test

If you’re like Steven and you’re having a bout of sudden hearing loss, you can do a quick test to get a rough understanding of where the problem is coming from. And here’s how you do it: just start humming. Select your favorite song and hum a few bars. What does it sound like? If your loss of hearing is conductive, your humming should sound the same in both ears. (After all, when you hum, most of what you’re hearing is coming from inside your own head.) If your humming is louder in one ear than the other, the hearing loss might be sensorineural (and it’s worth mentioning this to your hearing expert). It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. That can have some consequences for your overall hearing health, so it’s always a good idea to mention the possibility with your hearing specialist when you go in for an exam.

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