Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

When people talk about hearing loss, they are talking about one of the three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss refers to a blockage in the ear that interferes with the transmission of the sound. It can happen due to a congenital ear canal deformity, mid-ear anatomy or head trauma, infection, cancer, impacted earwax, or any other medical condition that interferes with sound conduction from the outer ear.

Sensorineural hearing loss refers to problems with the structure of the inner ear and how sound waves are transformed into electrical signals sent to the brain.

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, as you might expect.

There are three reasons why we focus more on sensorineural hearing loss at Ascent Audiology:

  1. It is the most common form of hearing loss. 
  2. It is permanent, which means it cannot be cured by medical or surgical means
  3. It is preventable in many instances.

What causes sensorineural hearing loss?

The most common cause: Aging

As we grow older, a deterioration within the inner ear, and the nerves’ pathways to the brain may affect our hearing. Much of the time, the small hair cells in the inner ear that help us hear are linked to these changes. The sound waves collected by our ears are interpreted by these hair cells and translated into electrical signals for the brain to perceive as identifiable sound. Since hair cells do not heal or regenerate, any hearing loss that we suffer due to this damage is irreversible.

The second most common cause: Excessive noise

Inner ear systems can be impaired when the ears have been exposed to excessive or prolonged loud sounds.  Harm can arise from short, severe noise, such as an explosion, or constant, loud noise, such as sounds in a loud working environment.

Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss

  • Genetic causes: Sensorineural hearing loss may be congenital, which means that hereditary genetics can cause it. The malformation of the inner ear results in hearing loss in some cases. Congenital sensorineural hearing loss causes otosclerosis (an inherited bone disorder) and Meniere’s disease (an inner ear disorder).
  • Certain medicines: In rare cases, certain prescription medicines used in treating unrelated conditions can also cause sensorineural hearing loss by irreparably destroying inner ear hair cells that do not regenerate. This issue is referred to as ototoxicity or “ear poisoning.”
  • Head injuries: Temporal bone damage can affect the cochlea, while the auditory system can be affected by other head and neck injuries.

What is the experience of sensorineural hearing loss like?

People with sensorineural hearing loss complain of poor language comprehension. There can also be severe mental and physical fatigue, resulting from spending time trying to decipher patchwork conversations for hours.   Depending on the severity, individuals with this form of hearing loss can also experience clicking or ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

The significant longer-term risks of chronic sensorineural hearing loss include social isolation and psychological issues. As a consequence, timely care is strongly recommended.

Is it possible to treat my sensorineural hearing loss?

Sensorineural hearing loss is, unfortunately, usually a lifelong condition. There are beneficial treatments, however, which can help. 

For instance, hearing aids have changed the lives of millions of people worldwide living with sensorineural hearing loss. They work by amplifying the frequencies of sound which are lost when hair cells are damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss rarely occurs equally across all frequencies – oftentimes the higher frequencies are the first to go. A hearing aid therefore works to make up for what is lost. The technology of hearing aids has improved dramatically in recent years and they are more effective and sleeker looking than ever before. 

Hearing is also an intensely individual experience; however, no one hearing aid treatment will work for everyone. If you have hearing loss, obtaining professional care is essential. It all starts with a hearing test with us. We will determine your unique hearing needs and work with you to find the right care to keep you connected. To schedule a consultation, contact us today!