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Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You may have some misconceptions regarding sensorineural hearing loss. Okay, okay – not everything is wrong. But we put to rest at least one false belief. We’re accustomed to thinking about conductive hearing loss developing all of a sudden and sensorineural hearing loss sneaking up on you over time. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

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

When we talk about sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you could feel a little disoriented – and we don’t hold it against you (the terms can be quite disorientating). So, the main point can be categorized in like this:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear has blockage it can cause this type of hearing loss. This might be due to earwax, swelling from allergies or lots of other things. Usually, your hearing will come back when the primary obstruction is cleared away.
  • 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. In the majority of instances, sensorineural hearing loss is effectively irreversible, although there are treatments that can keep your hearing loss from further degeneration.

Commonly, conductive hearing loss comes on rather suddenly, whereas sensorineural hearing loss moves significantly slower. But sometimes it works out differently. Despite the fact that sudden sensorineural hearing loss is not very common, it does exist. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a type of conductive hearing loss it can be particularly harmful.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed fairly frequently, it may be practical to take 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. So, too, did his crying kitten and crying baby. So, Steven wisely scheduled an appointment for an ear exam. Of course, Steven was in a rush. He was recovering from a cold and he had a lot of work to get caught up on. Maybe, during his appointment, he forgot to talk about his recent condition. After all, he was worrying about going back to work and most likely forgot to mention some other important details. And so Steven was prescribed some antibiotics and told to come back if the symptoms did not diminish by the time the pills had run their course. 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 ok. But if Steven was indeed suffering with SSNHL, a misdiagnosis could have considerable consequences.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Critical Hours

SSNH can be caused by a variety of ailments and events. Some of those causes might include:

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

This list could keep going for, well, quite a while. Your hearing professional will have a far better idea of what problems you should be on the lookout for. But many of these hidden problems can be managed and that’s the significant point. There’s a possibility that you can reduce your lasting hearing damage if you treat these hidden causes before the stereocilia or nerves get permanently affected.

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 idea of where the problem is coming from. And it’s pretty straight forward: just begin humming. Pick your favorite song and hum a few bars. What does the humming sound like? Your humming should sound the same in both ears if your loss of hearing is conductive. (The majority of what you’re hearing when you hum, after all, is coming from inside your head.) It’s worth discussing with your hearing expert if the humming is louder in one ear because it may be sensorineural hearing loss. Sometimes it does happen that there is a 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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