Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

In Hearing Loss by Jennifer Douberly, Au.D.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss, it’s important to understand what this condition is and how it can be treated. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the minute hair cells in your inner ear or auditory nerve. It can lead to difficulty hearing soft sounds, understanding speech, and feeling like you’re in a constant state of background noise. While there is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, there are treatments available that can help improve your ability to perceive sound. Here, we’ll explore what causes sensorineural hearing loss and some of the best treatment options available.

What are the causes of sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL)?

Causes of SNHL are typically divided into two classes: congenital and acquired. However, the majority of people affected by this condition fall into the acquired hearing loss category. 

Acquired sensorineural hearing loss

People with this type of hearing loss generally develop the condition later in life – they were not born with it. Some causes of acquired SNHL include:

  • Medications: There are over 200 medications available that are known to be ototoxic or harmful to your hearing health. Some anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, and chemotherapy drugs have been shown to cause permanent damage. 
  • Tumors: Abnormal skin growths in the middle ear, known as acoustic neuromas and cholesteatomas, are the most common types that affect hearing. 
  • Head or acoustic trauma: Exposure to excessively loud noises or physical impacts to the head can cause damage to the inner ear. 
  • Infections and disorders: Lupus and thyroiditis are some autoimmune disorders that can cause SNHL. Some viral infections, such as mumps, meningitis, and measles, are also known sources of hearing loss. 
  • Noise: Extended and constant exposure to sound above the 85-decibel range or exposure to a singular, intense noise event such as an explosion can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). 
  • Aging: Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, affects one-third of all Americans between the ages of 65-74. It is usually tough to detect as the condition progresses slowly over time and often affects both ears. 

Congenital sensorineural hearing loss

While most hearing loss is acquired later in life, congenital sensorineural hearing loss occurs during pregnancy. This form of hearing loss is much more scarce, affecting only about 3 in every 1,000 babies born in the United States. Causes of congenital sensorineural hearing loss can include prematurity, maternal diabetes, insufficient oxygen supply during birth, genetics, and infectious diseases transferred between the mother and child in the womb. In some cases, the cause is never known. 

How does sensorineural hearing loss affect your hearing?

Sensorineural hearing loss can cause a variety of symptoms, including diminished loudness, reduced clarity, and reduced range of comfortable sounds. In some cases, people with sensorineural hearing loss may experience “recruitment,” which is a condition where loud sounds become painfully loud very quickly while soft noises are barely detectable. 

Sensorineural hearing loss can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in older adults. Age-related hearing loss typically manifests as high-frequency hearing loss, which makes it difficult to hear high-pitched sounds. 

Many people with sensorineural hearing loss report that they don’t have issues hearing but have difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments. This can be frustrating and exhausting, as it requires a lot of effort to constantly lip-read and guess at words. 

What types of treatment are available?

There are a number of different treatment options available, but the most common is the use of hearing aids. These are small devices that you wear in or around your ears that amplify sound, making it easier for you to hear. However, it is never sufficient just to boost all sounds, as some noises would still be distorted. That is why proper testing and fitting are essential in order to ensure that the hearing aids are programmed specifically for your unique hearing loss requirements. 

Oftentimes, a cochlear implant may be a more suitable treatment solution, especially if the hearing loss is severe or profound. Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that bypass damaged areas of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve, providing a sense of sound even for people with extreme hearing loss. 

For more information on SNHL and SNHL treatments, contact us today.