HEARING TIPS

Why Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss is Sometimes Missed

Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

Everything you know about sensorineural hearing loss may be wrong. Okay, okay – not everything is wrong. But there’s at least one thing that needs to be cleared up. We’re used to thinking about conductive hearing loss happening suddenly 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 Generally Slow Moving?

When we talk about sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you could feel a little disoriented – and we don’t blame you (the terms can be quite disorientating). So, here’s a basic breakdown of what we’re talking about:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss is normally caused by damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. Your thinking of sensorineural hearing loss when your considering hearing loss from loud noise. In the majority of instances, sensorineural hearing loss is essentially permanent, though there are treatments that can keep your hearing loss from degenerating further.
  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear has blockage it can cause this form of hearing loss. This might be because of earwax, swelling from allergies or many other things. Normally, your hearing will return when the primary obstruction is cleared away.

It’s normal for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss takes place somewhat suddenly. But sometimes it works out differently. Despite the fact that sudden sensorineural hearing loss is very uncommon, it does exist. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a type of conductive hearing loss it can be especially harmful.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat frequently, it might be practical to have 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 in his right ear. The traffic outside seemed a bit quieter. So, too, did his crying kitten and chattering grade-schoolers. So he did the practical thing and scheduled a hearing exam. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He was just getting over a cold and he had a lot of work to catch up on. Maybe, while at his appointment, he forgot to mention his recent ailment. And it’s possible he even inadvertently omitted some other relevant info (he was, after all, already thinking about getting back to work). And so Steven was prescribed with some antibiotics and was told to come back if the symptoms persisted by the time the pills had run their course. It’s rare that sensorineural hearing loss comes on suddenly (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 significant consequences if Steven’s SSNHL was misdiagnosed.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The All-important First 72 Hours

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

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

This list could continue for, well, quite a while. Your hearing professional 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 treated and that’s the main point. There’s a possibility that you can lessen your lasting hearing damage if you treat these hidden causes before the stereocilia or nerves become permanently impacted.

The Hum Test

If you’re like Steven and you’re experiencing a bout of sudden hearing loss, you can perform a short test to get a general idea of where the issue is coming from. And it’s pretty straight forward: hum to yourself. Pick your favorite song and hum a few measures. What do you hear? Your humming should sound the same in both ears if your hearing loss is conductive. (After all, when you hum, most of what you hear is coming from in your own head.) If your humming is louder in one ear than the other, the loss of hearing could be sensorineural (and it’s worth pointing this out to your hearing specialist). It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. So when you go in for your hearing test, it’s a smart idea to mention the possibility because there could be serious repercussions.

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