Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jennifer Douberly, Au.D.

Over 48 million people have hearing loss, making it the third most common medical condition people live with today. Impacting nearly 1 in 6 people, hearing loss still remains widely undertreated. Learning more about hearing loss and being able to recognize the signs can help you protect your hearing health. 

There are three types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Conductive hearing loss occurs in the outer and middle ear as a result of physical obstructions and is often temporary. This differs from sensorineural hearing loss which occurs in the inner ear as a result of damage to the hair cells in the cochlea. Sensorineural hearing loss is much more common, impacting 90% of people with hearing loss. This type of imparied hearing is permanent and is managed most commonly with hearing aids. 


Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by several factors which irreparably damage the hair cells (known as stereocilia). A few of the most common causes include:   

  • Aging: aging is a significant indicator of hearing loss. 1 in 3 adults, ages 65 – 74, have some degree of hearing loss. This increases to half of all adults, ages 75 and older, who have disabling hearing loss. Age related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis typically occurs gradually and can result from the cumulative impact of loud noise on the auditory system, changes to the ear, or existing medical conditions which are linked to hearing loss and impact older adults disproportionately. 
  • Noise: noise induced hearing loss can be caused by one time or consistent exposure to loud noise. Loud noise can desensitize the sensory cells in the inner ear, reducing their capacity to convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals which is a crucial step in how sound is processed. This results in the brain receiving less auditory information, causing permanent hearing loss. 
  • Medical Conditions: extensive research shows that a number of medical conditions increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. These conditions can damage blood vessels and restrict blood flow to places like the ears which impacts how sound is absorbed and processed. 
  • Medications: there are over 200 medications that can damage hearing health. Known as ototoxic, these medications or chemicals include specific types of anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, and certain cancer treatments. 

Other causes include head injuries, chronic ear or viral infections, inner ear disorders, autoimmune conditions, as well as tumors and growths in the middle ear. 


It takes an average of 7 years for people to treat hearing loss symptoms. Contributing to this delay in treatment is that hearing loss often occurs gradually so symptoms can remain unnoticed for some time. Common signs include of sensorineural hearing loss include: 

  • Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears. 
  • Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise. 
  • Struggling to keep up with conversations. 
  • Asking others to repeat what they said, speak louder, and/or slower. 
  • Lip reading to identify individual words. 
  • Pretending to hear, experiencing miscommunication. 
  • Increasing the volume on the TV or other electronic devices. 
  • Finding yourself responding with “huh” or “what”. 
  • Being able to hear more clearly out of one ear compared to the other. 
  • Having a hard time knowing which direction sound is coming from. 
  • Feeling exhausted after conversations and social interactions. 

These symptoms can be mild to more severe, straining communication. Untreated symptoms often lead to social withdrawal, impacting relationships and social life. Studies show that untreated hearing loss increase health risks including cognitive decline, depressive symptoms, and injuries. 

Diagnosis & Treatment 

Fortuenaly, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated. The first step is to have your hearing evaluated by a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that evaluates your hearing opacities in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of ipmart you could be experiencing. Once your hearing needs are established, we can tailor treatment to meet those specific needs. 

Hearing aids are the most common treatment for hearing loss. These electronic devices are designed to absorb, amplify, adn process speech as well as sound. Today’s devices are more innovative, sleek, adn savvy than ever before. There is an array of options, styles, and technologies that deliver enhanced sound quality and connectivity. We will help you navigate your hearing aid options and help you choose a device that optimally emeets your hearing needs. Hearing aids maximize hearing capacity which alleviates symptoms and strengthened communication, offering life changing benefits that can transform everyday life.