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What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?


Hearing loss is complicated. There are many different reasons someone can develop hearing loss, and each situation can cause a different type of hearing loss. One of the most common and challenging types is sensorineural hearing loss. 

Sensorineural hearing loss is one of three types of hearing loss, and essentially refers to damage of the inner ear.

Most often, SNHL can be treated successfully with hearing aids or cochlear implants. However, a thorough ear examination and customized treatment plan is vital.

The majority of this type of hearing loss is caused by abnormalities of the hair cells within the cochlea. Other possible causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:

Natural aging process

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Aging is a main factor of all types of hearing loss. Approximately one-third of people over 65 years of age are affected by disabling hearing loss. The prevalence in this age group is greatest in South Asia, Asia Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization

Exposure to loud noise

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Exposure to loud noise can damage your hearing overtime. Recreational noise can be especially dangerous, because you might not notice the damage it is causing. According to WHO, approximately 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events. A recent survey in the UK also showed that 40 percent of musicians develop hearing loss. To protect your hearing, noise levels should not exceed 85 dB. If it is higher, try to reduce the noise, or wear ear protection.

Some medications 

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There are more than 200 known ototoxic medications (prescription and over-the-counter) on the market today, according to American Speech Language Hearing Association. These medications are used to treat everything from cancer and heart disease, to infections.  One of the first signs of ototoxicity is ringing in the ears, an incurable condition called Tinnitus. If you are concerned about hearing loss as a result of medications, please consult with your physician as soon as possible.

Skull fractures or head trauma

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A significant head injury occurs about every 21 seconds in the USA, according to the CDC. Falls are the most comon cause of traumatic brain injuries among adults aged 65 and older, but they are also commonly seen in sports. It is important to wear a helmet when playing contact sports or sports that have a risk of fall, such as bicycling. If you experience hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) following a head injury, contact your physician or audiologist as soon as possible.

Malformations of the inner earpexels-photo-large (1)

Malformations of the inner ear caused by hereditary and non-hereditary genetic factors or by complications during pregnancy and childbirth, may cause moderate to profound hearing loss. According to the WHO, some complications that may cause hearing loss at birth are: 

  • maternal rubella, syphilis or certain other infections during pregnancy;
  • low birth weight;
  • birth asphyxia (a lack of oxygen at the time of birth);
  • inappropriate use of particular drugs during pregnancy, such as aminoglycosides, cytotoxic drugs, antimalarial drugs and diuretics;
  • severe jaundice in the neonatal period, which can damage the hearing nerve in a newborn infant.

All of these factors can cause damage to the inner ear organ, called the Corti. Watch this video about how hearing works. 

Similar to conductive hearing loss, which is caused by blockage or damage in the outer and/or middle ear, sensorineural hearing loss reduces the intensity of sound. However, sensorineural hearing loss  might also introduce an element of distortion into what is heard,resulting in sounds being unclear even when they are loud enough.

If you think you or a loved one has sensorineural hearing loss, the first thing you should do is to see your doctor or audiologist. Search for hearing health providers near you.

Beverly
I work at Phonak and write for HearingLikeMe.com.

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