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Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

Many things you know about sensorineural hearing loss could be wrong. Alright – not everything is wrong. But we put to rest at least one mistaken impression. We’re accustomed to thinking about conductive hearing loss occurring suddenly and sensorineural hearing loss sneaking up on you as time passes. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

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

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

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is commonly caused by damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. When you think of hearing loss caused by intense sounds, you’re thinking of sensorineural hearing loss. Even though you might be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t become worse in the majority of cases the damage is irreversible.
  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear becomes blocked it can cause this kind of hearing loss. This could include anything from allergy-driven swelling to earwax. Conductive hearing loss is commonly treatable (and dealing with the root problem will generally result in the restoration of your hearing).

It’s common 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. Unexpected sensorineural hearing loss (or SSNHL) is relatively uncommon, but it does exist. And SSNHL can be particularly damaging when it’s not treated correctly because everyone thinks it’s a strange case of conductive hearing loss.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat often, it may be practical to look at a hypothetical interaction. 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. His alarm clock sounded quieter. So, too, did his barking dog and crying baby. So, Steven wisely made an appointment to see someone. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He had to catch up on some work after getting over a cold. Perhaps, during his appointment, he forgot to talk about his recent ailment. And maybe he even accidentally left out some other relevant information (he was, after all, already stressing over getting back to work). So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was advised to come back if his symptoms persisted. It’s rare that sensorineural hearing loss happens suddenly (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). And so, in the majority of situations, Steven would be ok. But if Steven was indeed suffering with SSNHL, a misdiagnosis can have considerable repercussions.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Critical Hours

SSNH can be caused by a range of conditions and events. Including some of these:

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

This list could go on for a while. Your hearing expert will have a far better understanding of what concerns you should be watching for. But the point is that many of these hidden causes can be handled. And if they’re treated before damage to the nerves or stereocilia becomes irreversible, there’s a chance that you can minimize 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 perform a quick test to get a rough idea of where the problem is coming from. And it’s fairly straight forward: hum to yourself. Pick your favorite tune and hum a few bars. 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, most of what you’re hearing is coming from in your own head.) It’s worth mentioning to your hearing specialist if the humming is louder in one ear because it may be sensorineural hearing loss. It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. That can have some repercussions for your general hearing health, so it’s always a good idea to bring up the possibility with your hearing professional when you go in for an exam.

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