What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Reviewed by Dr. Porter on September 23, 2020

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused either by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear or to the auditory nerve running from the ear to the brain. It is the most common type of hearing loss, with causes from illness, to aging, to damage from loud sounds. The loss can be slight, moderate or severe, and often comes in a distinct spectrum related to the range of sounds. Basically, if you have sensorineural auditory loss, you may have difficulty picking up soft sounds, and louder sounds come across muffled – as though you’re underwater. The resulting lack of clarity can make it hard to identify the origin of the sounds, especially in the presence of any background noise.

How Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Caused?

Sensorineural auditory loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or the nerve from the ear to the brain. There are a few possible causes of this inner-ear loss affliction. The most common causes of this type includes age – it can happen to anyone as a result of senescence. The scientific medical name for this is presbycusis.

A more avoidable cause of sensorineural hearing loss is exposure to very loud sounds. If, for example, you’re a construction worker and are around loud sounds all day, noise-canceling earmuffs can help you to avoid auditory loss.

Illnesses, unrelated to the ear, can also cause sensorineural auditory loss, particularly if the ailment is prolonged and/or treatment occurs too late. Should you experience any form of sudden loss, especially in connection with an illness, please call an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat doctor) or visit an Urgent Care as treatment needs to start right away in order to halt the loss, and in some cases even reverse it.

Another factor are drugs that are specifically toxic to the ears, known as ototoxicity, and thus will damage your hearing. Some known examples are exorbitant doses of aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen – a general class of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Keep in mind that you have to take very large doses; beyond those recommended on the label. There are antibiotic medications like neomycin and gentamicin that can also cause auditory loss in the inner ear. If you have any questions regarding the ototoxicity of a specific medication you are taking please contact your health care provider.

Additionally, there are some relatively uncommon causes for sensorineural loss, such as diabetes, heart disease, significant trauma to the head or inner ear, congenital defect in the inner ear formation, genetic propensity to auditory loss, Meniere’s disease, infections and autoimmune diseases.

What Causes Sensorineural Deafness – A More In-Depth Understanding

Sensorineural deafness is a hearing loss that has progressed to a profound loss. The reason why the loss associated with sensorineural deafness is so pronounced, is because the afflicted auditory nerve connects directly to the brain from the inner ear. When the nerve is damaged, sound cannot travel successfully from the ear to the brain. Because of the nerve involvement it is not uncommon to notice a constant buzzing sound as the problem progresses, which is called tinnitus. When coupled with the broad-spectrum auditory loss, this can also lead to a feeling of being off-balance, while potentially having slight-to-marked episodes of dizziness.

What are some of the other symptoms of developing sensorineural loss? Since it can begin slowly and then progress to a more marked stage, you should be on the lookout for sound imbalances in your perception. Put simply, do sounds come across as louder in one ear over the other? Additionally, conversations between two people can become harder to track, since the sounds from each of their voices start to conflict in your head. Related to these are the following:

What Causes Sensorineural Deafness – A More In-Depth Understanding

Background noise throws off your hearing

People with sensorineural auditory loss can find it more difficult to hear women’s voices than men’s voices
An inability to distinguish between “th” sounds and “s” sounds

Everyone’s voices around you sound slurred

Noisy environments give you a problem – too many frequencies causes confusion as to the nature of the sounds

Prognosis: Does Sensorineural Hearing Loss Worsen Over Time?
Since the primary cause of sensorineural loss is due to the damage of the small hair cells in the inner ear as a result of aging (presbycusis) it can slowly worsen over time. When the cause of the loss is exposure to loud sounds, then it may not worsen over time – if the exposure is reduced or eliminated. Sensorineural loss is not responsive to surgical or medical treatment, but can be treated!

Treating Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The treatment for this depends on the cause; if it’s age-related, then the condition can be managed with auditory aids or cochlear implants (for profound losses). These are mechanical treatments, since the damage to the tiny hair cells cannot be reversed or treated with surgery or medical treatments.

However, if you experience sudden sensorineural auditory loss, then corticosteroids can be of some benefit if the progenitor of the loss is viral in nature. If disease is the cause, then healthcare specialists can treat the disease in order to manage or reverse the loss. If it stems from an autoimmune disease, then drug therapy and/or prolonged corticosteroid treatments may bear fruit. Ultimately, you would benefit greatly from having a specialist take a look at the cause and status of your sensorineural ear loss, in order to present a viable course of treatment. Please contact the Sensorineural Hearing experts at Harbor Audiology at your earliest convenience; help is just around the corner.

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