Sometimes Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss Isn’t Detected, But What’s The Reason?

Woman with sudden sensorineural hearing loss holding ears.

You may have some misconceptions about sensorineural hearing loss. Alright, maybe not everything is false. But we can clear up at least one false impression. We’re accustomed to thinking about conductive hearing loss developing suddenly and sensorineural hearing loss sneaking up on you as time passes. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.

Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Normally Slow-moving?

When we discuss sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you might feel a little disoriented – and we don’t blame you (the terms can be quite dizzying). So, the main point can be broken down in this way:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss is the result of an obstruction in the middle or outer ear. This could be due to earwax, inflammation caused by allergies or lots of other things. Conductive hearing loss is usually treatable (and dealing with the underlying issue will usually result in the recovery of your hearing).
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is normally due to 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. Although you may be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t become worse in most cases the damage is irreversible.

It’s common for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss happens somewhat suddenly. But that’s not always the case. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (or SSNHL) is somewhat uncommon, but it does happen. If SSNHL is misdiagnosed as a form of conductive hearing loss it can be especially harmful.

Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?

To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed somewhat frequently, it might be helpful to take a look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s suppose that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one day and couldn’t hear anything in his right ear. The traffic outside seemed a little quieter. So, too, did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So, Steven prudently made an appointment to see someone. Of course, Steven was in a hurry. He had to get caught up on some work after recovering from a cold. Maybe he wasn’t certain to mention that recent ailment at his appointment. And it’s possible he even unintentionally left out some other relevant information (he was, after all, already stressing about getting back to work). 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 the majority of cases, Steven would be just fine. But if Steven was indeed suffering with SSNHL, a misdiagnosis could have significant consequences.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Decisive Hours

There are a wide array of situations or conditions which may cause SSNHL. Some of those causes might include:

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

This list could continue for, well, quite a while. Your hearing expert will have a far better idea of what issues you should be on the lookout for. But the point is that lots of of these underlying causes can be handled. There’s a possibility that you can reduce your long term hearing damage if you address these hidden causes before the stereocilia or nerves get permanently affected.

The Hum Test

If you’re having a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, there’s a brief test you can do to get a rough concept of where the problem is coming from. And it’s pretty simple: hum to yourself. Just hum a few bars of your favorite song. What does it sound like? Your humming should sound the same in both of your ears if your hearing loss is conductive. (The majority of what you’re hearing when you hum, after all, is coming from inside your own head.) If your humming is louder in one ear than the other, the hearing loss may be sensorineural (and it’s worth pointing this out to your hearing expert). Ultimately, it’s possible that sudden sensorineural hearing loss may be wrongly diagnosed as conductive hearing loss. That can have some repercussions for your general hearing health, so it’s always a good idea to bring up the possibility with your hearing specialist when you go in for a hearing test.

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.