Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You might have some misconceptions about sensorineural hearing loss. Alright, perhaps not everything is false. But we can clear up at least one false impression. Generally, we think that sensorineural hearing loss comes on over time while conductive hearing loss occurs quickly. It turns out that’s not necessarily true – and that sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss may often be wrongly diagnosed.

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

When we talk about sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you might feel a little confused – and we don’t blame you (the terms can be quite disorientating). So, the main point can be categorized in this way:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss is usually due to damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. Your thinking of sensorineural hearing loss when your considering hearing loss caused by loud noise. Although you might be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t become worse in most instances the damage is irreversible.
  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss results from an obstruction in the middle or outer ear. This could be because of earwax, inflammation caused by allergies or lots of other things. Usually, your hearing will come back when the underlying obstruction is cleared away.

Usually, conductive hearing loss comes on rather suddenly, whereas sensorineural hearing loss moves significantly slower. But that’s not always the situation. 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 fairly often, it may be practical to take a 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 out of his right ear. His alarm clock seemed quieter. As did his barking dog and a crying baby. So he did the wise thing and scheduled a hearing exam. Needless to say, Steven was in a hurry. He was recovering from a cold and he had lots of work to catch up on. Maybe, while at his appointment, he didn’t remember to talk about his recent condition. And it’s possible he even inadvertently omitted some other relevant information (he was, after all, already thinking about getting back to work). So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was advised to return if his symptoms persisted. 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 just fine. But if Steven was indeed suffering with SSNHL, a misdiagnosis can have considerable consequences.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The Crucial First 72 Hours

SSNH could be caused by a range of ailments and situations. Some of those causes might include:

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

This list could go on and on. Whatever problems you should be watching for can be better recognized by your hearing professional. But quite a few of these root conditions can be treated and that’s the main point. There’s a possibility that you can lessen your long term hearing damage if you treat these hidden causes before the stereocilia or nerves get permanently harmed.

The Hum Test

If you’re experiencing a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, there’s a brief test you can perform to get a rough understanding of where the issue is coming from. And this is how you do it: just begin humming. Just hum a few measures of your favorite song. What does it sound like? Your humming should sound the same in both of your ears if your loss of hearing is conductive. (Most of what you’re hearing when you hum, after all, is coming from inside your 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 professional). Ultimately, it is possible that sudden sensorineural hearing loss may be wrongly diagnosed as conductive hearing loss. So when you go in for your hearing exam, it’s a good idea to mention the possibility because there could be severe repercussions.

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