Of the kinds of hearing loss, sensorineural is by far the most prevalent, accounting for about 9 out of 10 cases. The other kinds of hearing loss—conductive and mixed—occur through a damaging effect to the middle or outer ear, but they are not as common. With so many people affected by sensorineural hearing loss, it is important to understand how it is caused and what to look out for if you are concerned that you might have incurred this type of loss. In addition, we can benefit from a better understanding of the way that sensorineural hearing loss can be treated through hearing aids and other devices. Let’s walk through these important dimensions of sensorineural hearing loss, keeping in mind those in our families and communities who might have an undiagnosed condition.
How is sensorineural hearing loss caused?
The causes of sensorineural hearing loss are varied, but two causes exceed the rest: noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss. In the first case, a sudden noise event can cause the loss, particularly related to an explosion or car crash. Noise-induced hearing loss can also be caused by prolonged exposure to loud sound over 85 decibels. This hearing loss through extended duration can be caused in a workplace environment, such as a factory or mechanic’s shop, or it can be caused by something as seemingly harmless as a pair of earbuds.
In addition to noise-induced hearing loss, age-related loss is the other major cause. One in three Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have this type of hearing loss, and the rates are even higher for ages 75 and above. Although specialists don’t know exactly how age-related hearing loss is differentiated from noise-induced loss, it seems to be a part of a natural process of cell degeneration in the stereocilia, those tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear. Other less common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include ototoxic chemicals or medications, head trauma, tumors, or infections. In each case the condition causes damage to the stereocilia in the cochlea of the inner ear or along the auditory nervous pathway to the brain.
How can I identify sensorineural hearing loss?
The best way to identify what kind of hearing loss you have is through a thorough diagnosis from one of our hearing health specialists. In most cases, sensorineural hearing loss is caused by a gradual degeneration of the inner ear or auditory nervous pathway, making it difficult to tell when the loss has occurred or how extreme it has become. Conductive and mixed hearing loss occur in the middle to outer ears, meaning that some cases can be cured or go away with time. On the other hand, sensorineural hearing loss is usually caused by damage to the stereocilia that cannot be repaired with current medical technology. A gradual muting or dampening of hearing ability is a common report from those who have sensorineural hearing loss, and high frequencies tend to be the first to go. Many people with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble understanding speech, in part due to the necessity to hear high-frequency sound to interpret consonants.
How can I treat sensorineural hearing loss?
Once you have had a hearing test with one of our professionals, we can give you a full diagnosis of your condition and needs. Treatment for sensorineural hearing loss usually can be achieved through hearing aids, and these devices are remarkably advanced at helping restore hearing ability for speech. These developments make it possible to isolate the voice of a person standing directly in front of a person and to attenuate the sound of other voices and background noise in a room.
Many of today’s hearing aids also come equipped with Bluetooth technology to sync with smartphones and media players. This development assists those with sensorineural hearing loss to detect the sound of a phone ringer, notifications, and even to stream music and other audio directly to their ears while maintaining awareness of environmental sound.