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Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is a type of hearing loss that occurs when there is an injury to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. SNHL can be caused by exposure to loud noise, certain medications, head trauma, or aging.

Soft noises may be difficult to hear with SNHL. Even louder sounds could be unintelligible or muted. SNHL is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.

Symptoms of SNHL include difficulty hearing, ringing in the ears, or both. SNHL can be diagnosed with a hearing test. There is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, but there are treatments that can help improve hearing. These include hearing aids, cochlear implants, and speech therapy.

What causes sensorineural hearing loss?

SNHL can be caused by exposure to loud noise, certain medications, head trauma, or aging.

Damage to the nerve fibers inside the ear is the primary cause of sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). Damage to the nerve that transmits information to the brain occasionally causes this condition. Sensorineural deafness may also be attributed to birth defects due to genetic disorders (congenital).

SNHL may progress so slowly to the point that it could be hard to detect at first. A small decrease in hearing ability each year will not be very recognizable but after several years it will be very noticeable to family, friends, and co-workers.

How serious is sensorineural hearing loss?

SNHL isn’t necessarily a serious illness, but it can impair your speech if left untreated. Sensorineural hearing loss can also lead to social isolation as it becomes harder to communicate with others.

If you have sensorineural hearing loss, you may find it difficult to hear soft sounds or follow conversations. Sensorineural hearing loss can also cause tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or roaring sound in the ears.

Signs and Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Since sensorineural hearing loss can be quite tricky to catch at its onset, below are some symptoms you need to watch for:

  • Difficulty understanding conversation, especially if there is background noise
  • Asking people to repeat themselves often
  • Turning up the volume on televisions and radios at levels higher than usual
  • Having difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, such as children’s voices or birds singing
  • Experiencing ringing in the ears
  • Hearing muffled sounds
  • Experiencing hearing fatigue at the end of the day

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s recommended that you get a hearing exam or schedule a consultation with an audiologist. Hearing tests are quick and painless; the earlier hearing loss is diagnosed, the more likely hearing can be retained.

Diagnosing Sensorineural Hearing Loss

A healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be conducted. Audiometry is used to diagnose sensorineural pattern hearing loss, which exhibits a significant hearing loss but lacks the “air-bone gap” associated with conductive hearing disorders. The audiogram will also show if the sensorineural hearing loss is mild, moderate, or severe.

Preventing Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The most common form of hearing loss, sensorineural deafness, is mostly preventable. By taking some easy precautions, millions of cases of hearing loss in the United States may be avoided.

Generally, you can prevent sensorineural hearing loss by avoiding exposure to loud noises or by wearing ear protection when you are exposed to a loud noise. Here are other ways to protect yourself from sensorineural hearing loss:

  • Apply the 60/60 rule – When wearing headphones, limit your listening to no more than 60 minutes at a time and at no more than 60% of the maximum volume. Consider purchasing noise-canceling headphones as well, since lower volumes are required to achieve quality hearing.
  • Protect your ears at live shows – Music concerts can reach levels of 120-130 decibels, which are far above the threshold for safe volume (you could damage your hearing in 15 minutes). With the assistance of foam earplugs or musician’s plugs that preserve the music quality, you can reduce the volume while still enjoying decent sound quality.
  • Protect your ears at work – If you work in a high-volume industry, inquire about your company’s hearing protection program.
  • Safeguard your hearing at home – Power saws, motorbikes, and fireworks displays are just a few of the numerous household and leisure activities that produce high-decibel noises. During extended exposure, make sure you use ear protection at all times.

Treating Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured. However, there are treatments available to help those with sensorineural hearing loss manage their condition and improve their quality of life.

  • Hearing aids – Hearing aids amplify sound so that people with sensorineural hearing loss can hear better. There are many different types of hearing aids available, and an audiologist can help you choose the best one for your needs.
  • Cochlear implants – Cochlear implants are devices that are surgically implanted into the ear to provide a sense of sound to people with sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants bypass damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
  • Assistive listening devices – Assistive listening devices (ALDs) amplify sound and can be used with or without hearing aids. ALDs can be helpful in specific situations, such as when you are trying to listen to someone speaking from a distance or in a noisy environment.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing that has no apparent cause. SSHL can occur instantly or progress over a period of 72 hours. It can affect one ear or both ears.

While the exact cause of SSHL is unknown, it is most likely due to a viral infection or a problem with the blood supply to the inner ear. SSHL is a medical emergency, and you should see a doctor as soon as possible if you experience sudden hearing loss.

Symptoms of SSHL include:

  • Sudden onset of hearing loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Ear pain
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

If you experience sudden hearing loss, call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately. Early treatment is essential for preventing permanent hearing loss.

Can sudden sensorineural hearing loss be cured?

A small percentage of people with sudden sensorineural hearing loss will fully recover their hearing. There is a lower possibility of complete recovery among older adults and individuals diagnosed with vertigo. If your hearing doesn’t improve, using hearing aids or telephone amplifiers can help.

Audiologists and Hearing Aids in Cary, NC

Sensorineural hearing loss can have a significant impact on your quality of life. If you think you may be experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, make an appointment with an audiologist or other hearing healthcare professional to get your hearing checked. Early detection and treatment are important for preventing permanent hearing loss.

At Cary Audiology, our team of experienced audiologists can help you with all aspects of sensorineural hearing loss, from diagnosis to treatment. We offer a wide range of services, including hearing testing, hearing aid fittings, and cochlear implant evaluations. We also offer assistive listening devices and a variety of other hearing healthcare products.

If you live in the Cary, NC area and would like to learn more about sensorineural hearing loss, contact Cary Audiology today to schedule an appointment.

We offer convenient office hours and flexible scheduling to meet your needs.