You may have certain misconceptions regarding sensorineural hearing loss. Okay, okay – not everything is wrong. But we put to rest at least one false impression. Normally, we think that sensorineural hearing loss develops slowly while conductive hearing loss occurs quickly. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.
When You Get sensorineural Hearing Loss, is it Usually Slow Moving?
When we discuss sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you may feel a little disoriented – and we don’t blame you (the terms can be quite dizzying). So, here’s a quick breakdown of what we’re talking about:
- Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss is the result of a blockage in the middle or outer ear. This might be because of earwax, swelling caused by allergies or many other things. Usually, your hearing will come back when the underlying obstruction is cleared away.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is commonly caused by 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. In most instances, sensorineural hearing loss is essentially irreversible, although there are treatments that can keep your hearing loss from degenerating further.
Normally, conductive hearing loss comes on quite suddenly, whereas sensorineural hearing loss moves somewhat slowly. But that’s not always the situation. Even though sudden sensorineural hearing loss is very uncommon, it does exist. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a form of conductive hearing loss it can be particularly damaging.
Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?
To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat often, it might be helpful 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 sounded quieter. As did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So he did the practical thing and scheduled a hearing test. Of course, Steven was in a hurry. He was just getting over a cold and he had a ton of work to catch up on. Maybe he wasn’t sure to mention that recent ailment during his appointment. After all, he was thinking about getting back to work and probably forgot to mention some other relevant details. So after being prescribed with antibiotics, he was told to return if his symptoms persisted. Sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss is relatively rare (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). And so, in most cases, Steven would be ok. But there could be significant repercussions if Steven’s SSNHL was misdiagnosed.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Critical Hours
There are a wide array of situations or ailments which may cause SSNHL. Some of those causes might include:
- Problems with blood circulation.
- Some medications.
- A neurological issue.
- Traumatic brain injury or head trauma of some kind.
This list could go on and on. Whatever concerns you should be watching for can be better understood by your hearing professional. But the main point is that lots of of these underlying causes can be treated. There’s a possibility that you can reduce your long term hearing damage if you address these underlying causes before the stereocilia or nerves become permanently damaged.
The Hum Test
If you’re like Steven and you’re having a bout of sudden hearing loss, you can do a quick test to get a general idea of where the issue is coming from. And this is how you do it: hum to yourself. Select your favorite tune and hum a few measures. What do you hear? If your loss of hearing is conductive, your humming should sound similar in both ears. (After all, when you hum, most of what you’re hearing is coming from in your own head.) If your humming is louder on one side than the other, the hearing loss might be sensorineural (and it’s worth pointing this out to your hearing expert). It’s possible that there could be misdiagnosis between sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. That can have some consequences for your general hearing health, so it’s always a smart idea to point out the possibility with your hearing specialist when you go in for your appointment.