Gold Country Hearing - Gold Country Valley, CA

Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

Everything you thought you knew about sensorineural hearing loss could be wrong. Okay, okay – not everything is wrong. But there is at least one thing that needs to be cleared up. Typically, we think that sensorineural hearing loss comes on over time while conductive hearing loss occurs suddenly. It so happens that’s not inevitably true – and that rapid onset of sensorineural hearing loss could often be wrongly diagnosed.

Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Normally Slow-moving?

The difference between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss may seem difficult to understand. So, here’s a quick breakdown of what we’re talking about:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is normally due to damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. When you consider hearing loss caused by loud noises, you’re thinking of sensorineural hearing loss. Although you may be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t become worse in the majority of instances the damage is permanent.
  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear becomes blocked it can cause this type of hearing loss. This could be because of earwax, swelling from allergies or lots of other things. Conductive hearing loss is usually treatable (and resolving the root issue will usually bring about the restoration of your hearing).

Commonly, conductive hearing loss happens quite suddenly, whereas sensorineural hearing loss moves somewhat slowly. But occasionally it works out differently. Unexpected sensorineural hearing loss (or SSNHL) is relatively uncommon, but it does occur. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a form of conductive hearing loss it can be particularly harmful.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed fairly frequently, it might be practical to take a 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 in his right ear. The traffic outside seemed a bit quieter. So, too, did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So he did the wise thing and scheduled a hearing assessment. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He was recovering from a cold and he had a ton of work to catch up on. Perhaps, during his appointment, he didn’t remember to talk about his recent condition. And maybe he even unintentionally omitted some other important info (he was, after all, already stressing about getting back to work). So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was advised to come back if his symptoms didn’t clear up. 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 consequences.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Decisive Hours

There are a variety of events or conditions which may cause SSNHL. Some of those causes might include:

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

This list could continue for, well, quite a while. Your hearing specialist will have a much better idea of what issues you should be on the lookout for. But a lot of these root conditions can be managed and that’s the significant point. And if they’re treated before injury to the nerves or stereocilia becomes irreversible, there’s a chance to minimize your long term hearing loss.

The Hum Test

If you’re experiencing a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, there’s a short test you can perform to get a rough concept of where the issue is coming from. And here’s how you do it: hum to yourself. Simply hum a few bars of your favorite tune. What do you hear? Your humming should sound the same in both of your ears if your hearing loss is conductive. (After all, when you hum, the majority of of what you’re hearing is coming from in your own head.) If your humming is louder in one ear than the other, the loss of hearing might be sensorineural (and it’s worth mentioning this to your hearing expert). Inevitably, it’s possible that sudden sensorineural hearing loss might be wrongly diagnosed as conductive hearing loss. That can have some repercussions for your overall hearing health, so it’s always a good idea to point out the possibility with your hearing professional when you go in for your appointment.

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