Audio Life Hearing Center- Knoxville, TN

Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You might have some misconceptions regarding sensorineural hearing loss. Alright, maybe not everything is false. But we put to rest at least one false belief. We’re accustomed to thinking about conductive hearing loss occurring all of a sudden and sensorineural hearing loss sneaking up on you as time passes. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

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

When we discuss sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you may feel a little confused – and we don’t blame you (the terms can be quite dizzying). So, here’s a basic breakdown of what we mean:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss is the result of a blockage in the middle or outer ear. This might be because of earwax, swelling from allergies or many other things. Normally, your hearing will return when the primary obstruction is cleared up.
  • 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. In the majority of cases, sensorineural hearing loss is effectively permanent, though there are treatments that can keep your hearing loss from degenerating further.

Usually, conductive hearing loss happens quite suddenly, whereas sensorineural hearing loss moves significantly slower. But sometimes it works out differently. Even though sudden sensorineural hearing loss is not very common, it does exist. And SSNHL can be especially damaging when it isn’t treated properly because everyone assumes it’s an unusual case of conductive hearing loss.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat frequently, it might be helpful to look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s imagine that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one day and couldn’t hear anything out of his right ear. The traffic outside seemed a little quieter. As did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So, Steven smartly made an appointment for an ear exam. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He had to catch up on a lot of work after recovering from a cold. Perhaps he wasn’t sure to emphasize that recent illness during his appointment. Of course, he was thinking about going back to work and most likely left out some other significant info. So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was told to come back if his symptoms didn’t clear up. Sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss is fairly rare (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). And so, in most situations, Steven would be just fine. But there could be dangerous consequences if Steven’s SSNHL was misdiagnosed.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Decisive Hours

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

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

This list could continue 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 the main point is that lots of of these underlying causes can be managed. There’s a possibility that you can lessen your lasting hearing damage if you deal with 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 idea of where the issue is coming from. And it’s pretty straight forward: hum to yourself. Pick your favorite tune and hum a few measures. What do you hear? Your humming should sound the same in both of your ears if your loss of hearing 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 on one side than the other, the loss of hearing might be sensorineural (and it’s worth pointing this out to your hearing professional). It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. That can have some repercussions for your general hearing health, so it’s always a good idea to mention the possibility with your hearing specialist when you go in for an exam.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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