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Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You might have some misconceptions regarding sensorineural hearing loss. Alright – not everything is wrong. But there is at least one thing that needs to be cleared up. We’re used to thinking about conductive hearing loss happening all of a sudden and sensorineural hearing loss sneaking up on you over time. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

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

The difference between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss could seem difficult to understand. So, the main point can be categorized in like this:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When the outer ear has blockage it can cause this kind of hearing loss. This might be because of earwax, swelling caused by allergies or lots of other things. Conductive hearing loss is normally treatable (and managing the root problem will generally result in the recovery of your hearing).
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This type of hearing loss is usually 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. Although you might be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t get worse in the majority of instances the damage is irreversible.

Commonly, conductive hearing loss happens rather suddenly, whereas sensorineural hearing loss moves somewhat slowly. But sometimes it works out differently. Even though sudden sensorineural hearing loss is very uncommon, it does exist. And SSNHL can be especially damaging when it’s not treated properly because everyone thinks it’s an unusual case of conductive hearing loss.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat often, it may 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 out of his right ear. The traffic outside seemed a little quieter. So, too, did his crying kitten and crying baby. So, Steven smartly scheduled an appointment for an ear exam. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He had to get caught up on a lot of work after recovering from a cold. Maybe, during his appointment, he didn’t remember to mention his recent condition. Of course, he was thinking about getting back to work and probably left out some other important information. So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was told to come back if his symptoms didn’t clear up. 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 most cases, Steven would be ok. But if Steven was indeed suffering with SSNHL, a misdiagnosis could have considerable repercussions.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Decisive Hours

There are a variety of situations or ailments which could cause SSNHL. Some of those causes might include:

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

This list could go on for a while. Your hearing expert will have a much better concept of what issues you should be looking out for. But quite a few of these root problems can be treated and that’s the main point. There’s a chance 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 experiencing a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, you can do a quick test to get a rough understanding of where the problem is coming from. And this is how you do it: hum to yourself. Select your favorite song and hum a few bars. What does it sound like? Your humming should sound the same in both ears if your hearing loss is conductive. (Most of what you’re hearing when you hum, after all, is coming from inside your own head.) It’s worth discussing with your hearing specialist if the humming is louder on one side because it might be sensorineural hearing loss. Inevitably, it is possible that sudden sensorineural hearing loss could be misdiagnosed as conductive hearing loss. So when you go in for your hearing test, it’s a smart idea to mention the possibility because there may be serious repercussions.

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