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Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

Everything you know about sensorineural hearing loss could be incorrect. Okay, okay – not everything is wrong. But we put to rest at least one mistaken impression. We’re accustomed to thinking about conductive hearing loss happening suddenly and sensorineural hearing loss creeping up on you over time. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Usually Slow Moving?

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

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss results from a blockage in the outer or middle ear. This might be because of earwax, swelling caused by allergies or many other things. Conductive hearing loss is usually treatable (and dealing with the underlying issue will generally bring about the recovery of your hearing).
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This form 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 from loud noise. Even though you might be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t get worse in most cases the damage is permanent.

It’s normal for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss happens fairly suddenly. But occasionally it works out differently. Even though sudden sensorineural hearing loss is very uncommon, it does exist. And SSNHL can be particularly damaging when it isn’t treated correctly because everyone assumes it’s a weird case of conductive hearing loss.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat often, it may be practical to have a look at a hypothetical interaction. 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. The traffic outside seemed a bit quieter. As did his crying kitten and crying baby. So, Steven smartly scheduled an appointment for an ear exam. Needless to say, Steven was in a hurry. He had to catch up on some work after getting over a cold. Perhaps, while at his appointment, he forgot to talk about his recent illness. Of course, he was thinking about getting back to work and most likely forgot to mention some other important details. And as a result Steven was prescribed some antibiotics and told to return if the symptoms persisted by the time the pills were gone. Rapid onset of sensorineural hearing loss is fairly rare (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). And so, in the majority of situations, Steven would be just fine. But there could be severe consequences if Steven’s SSNHL was misdiagnosed.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Critical Hours

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

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

This list could continue for, well, quite a while. Your hearing specialist will have a far better concept of what problems you should be on the lookout for. But the main point is that lots of of these root causes can be handled. And if they’re treated before damage to the nerves or stereocilia becomes permanent, 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 quick test you can do to get a rough concept of where the problem is coming from. And this is how you do it: 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, the majority of of what you’re hearing is coming from in your own head.) It’s worth discussing with your hearing expert if the humming is louder on one side because it might be sensorineural hearing loss. 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 smart idea to bring up the possibility with your hearing professional when you go in for your appointment.

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