Hearing loss is common and falls into two general categories: conductive and sensorineural.
WHAT IS SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS (SNHL)?
SNHL is hearing loss resulting from damage to the nerves that move from the inner ear to the brain or damage to the stereocilia (auditory cells that look like tiny hairs under a microscope) in the inner ear.
SNHL commonly affects both ears and is irreversible. There are two forms of SNHL, acquired or congenital and the effects range from mild, moderate, severe, to profound.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS?
- Muffled sounds
- Difficulties understanding voices
- Clogged sensation in the ear
- Ringing sounds
- Dizzy spells
WHAT CAUSES SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS (SNHL)?
Sensorineural hearing loss is described as being either acquired or congenital.
Acquired sensorineural hearing loss
This is the most common form of hearing loss, it happens in adults and usually develops later in life caused by:
- Aging: The gradual loss of hearing over time as individuals age is known as presbycusis. It affects one out of every three persons over the age of 65 in the U.S. This type of loss can be difficult to notice as it typically happens in both ears slowly over the course of many years.
- Noise: Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is cause by exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels (dB). Occupational or recreational exposure to loud noises, like explosions, plane engines, construction sites, sporting events, live concerts, or fireworks. If you have to shout to speak with someone close by or your ears ring after attending a live event, it’s like you’ve suffered noise-induced damage to your ears.
- Illness and infections: Viral infections such as measles, meningitis, and mumps have been known to cause sensorineural hearing loss. Autoimmune disorders like Lyme disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have also triggered hearing loss.
- Tumors: Abnormal skin growth in the middle ear is known as cholesteatoma or an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that develops on the auditory nerves that lead from your inner ear to your brain.
- Head or noise trauma: A hard hit to the head can also cause damage to your inner ear. Concussions have been linked to tinnitus and hearing loss. Exposure to one-time bursts of loud noises can also compromise hearing health.
- Medication: There are over 200 regularly prescribed and over-the-counter medications that are considered to be ototoxic. These medications, which include some forms of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and chemotherapy drugs, are known to damage the ear and can result in hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance disorders.
Congenital sensorineural hearing loss
Congenital sensorineural hearing loss is rare and happens during pregnancy. Some of the causes are maternal diabetes, an infectious disease passed in the womb, premature birth, lack of oxygen during birth, and genetic predisposition.
With the advent of newborn screening, children born with congenital sensorineural hearing loss are diagnosed early and able to begin treatment to help with the early development of language.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss
In rare cases, people have developed sudden deafness. This typically happens in one ear when an unexplained loss of hearing occurs over the course of a few days or rapidly at once.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
HOW DOES SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS AFFECT HEARING?
SNHL affects the tone and distinction of sounds and also limits the range of comfortable sounds. People with sensorineural hearing loss struggle to make out speech when there is a lot of background noise.
Sounds that were once normal are now too soft to hear while louder sounds may become uncomfortable or unbearable. Sensorineural hearing loss can also exaggerate the symptoms of age related hearing loss, making higher frequencies hard or impossible to hear, while other sounds and frequencies become muffled.
HOW TO TREAT SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS?
Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is not repairable but there are a few treatment options available.
- Hearing aids are typically the first recommendation for effective treatment. Small devices, that fit in your ear. They work to amplify the sounds in your environment.
- Implants are recommended in case where ear worn devices don’t work. Implants have a mechanism that sends sounds directly to the inner ear.
After determining the cause and severity of your sensorineural hearing loss, a hearing health professional can fit you with a device programmed specifically for you hearing needs.