Out of the three different types of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is the most common. Thus, out of the nearly 50 million Americans affected by hearing loss, a large percentage deal with sensorineural. This condition can have damaging effects beyond listening and communication, as will soon be seen. The condition can affect everyday life, putting those with sensorineural hearing loss at a disadvantage compared to their peers.
What Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Sensorineural hearing loss is a condition where one’s inner ear sustains damage that inhibits it from functioning correctly. Sensorineural hearing loss may also damage the nerves that connect the ear to the brain, which can result in inefficient signal processing. It is a permanent condition—once the damage is done, it cannot be healed or repaired.
Someone with sensorineural hearing loss typically has difficulty hearing the loudness of sounds and the clarity of sounds. Patients may also have a hard time hearing any quiet sounds. In addition, some individuals develop a particular form of this condition known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
This subset of hearing loss is when the condition has a quick or sudden onset; it could occur instantly or over a few days. Many people ask does sensorineural hearing loss gets worse. When it comes to sudden hearing loss, the answer is yes.
If someone begins to notice a rapid onset of hearing troubles, they should seek a doctor immediately. In some cases, if caught early enough, medications or other measures may help to reduce the degree of hearing loss sustained.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss Causes
Many factors, both genetic and environmental, can lead to the development of sensorineural hearing loss. Some causes can happen throughout one’s life, whereas others may be present at birth.
The most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is presbycusis or age-related hearing loss. This is a gradual process that is typically noticed in older adults. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, roughly 30% of adults over 65 have permanent hearing loss. Presbycusis occurs due to the natural degradation of the inner ear’s hair cells. This may occur from constant exposure to loud noises or other age-related issues.
The next most common cause is noise-induced hearing loss. When an individual is exposed to excessively loud noise, permanent damage to their eardrum or other parts of the ear can occur. Noise-related hearing loss can happen over the years, or it can cause sudden hearing loss. The list below shows the other common causes of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Physical Trauma— individuals who suffer a head injury may obtain irreparable damage in their inner ear. Sustained head injuries can damage physical structures such as the Eustachian tube or the eardrum.
- Ototoxic medication—various medications can cause permanent damage to one’s hearing. If someone takes an ototoxic medication with an existing hearing issue, the chances are high that the problem is exacerbated.
- Infections—several infections have been known to cause permanent hearing loss. Such infections include herpes, rubella, HIV, cytomegalovirus, German measles, West Nile Virus, mumps, Varicella-Zoster Virus, and HSV Types 1 & 2.
- Hereditary hearing loss—according to the Hereditary Hearing Loss Organization, 121 genes have been identified in non-syndromic hearing loss.
- Tumors that obstruct hearing or auditory nerves
- Autoimmune diseases
- Malformation of the inner ear
- Meniere’s Disease
Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms
Sensorineural Hearing Loss can affect one or both ears, depending on the case. Thus, if hearing starts to fade in one ear and not the other, it could still be permanent. The first symptoms that patients notice are physical, such as the list below.
- Difficulty in hearing quiet sounds
- Trouble communicating on the phone
- High-frequency sounds, such as whistles and children’s voices, may be difficult to hear.
- The loudness of sounds can be challenging to hear.
- Sounds, voices, and environmental noises may seem muffled or unclear
- A ringing sensation in your ear(s) is present—tinnitus
- Trouble concentrating on one sound when there is background noise
- Different levels of loudness in one ear versus the other
Beyond physical symptoms, sensorineural hearing loss has social and emotional impacts on those affected. Individuals with hearing loss typically feel more isolated than their counterparts. Patients may not want to involve themselves in social gatherings, as they feel discouraged.
Patients often have trouble communicating effectively at work, at home, and with their friends. All these symptoms can lead to depression, anxiety, and stress.
Furthermore, individuals with hearing loss are less likely to succeed at work when their condition goes untreated. Patients in the workforce have a communication disadvantage that can affect concentration and productivity.
Various research has shown individuals with untreated; permanent hearing loss suffer from a cognitive decline earlier than their peers. Likewise, correlations have come to light between untreated hearing loss and dementia.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss Treatment
As seen, sensorineural causes many life-altering effects that go beyond just listening. Thus, getting diagnosed and seeking treatment is vital to long-term physical, mental, and emotional health.
Treatment helps individuals overcome physical hearing and communication limitations. In addition, it allows patients to regain confidence and participate in social gatherings without any self-conscious thoughts. Studies have shown when patients get treatment for their condition; they see improvements in familial relationships, mental health, work-life, social life, and self-reported well-being.
As sensorineural hearing loss is considered permanent, no treatments to restore one’s hearing exists. However, doctors and ENT specialists can prescribe hearing aids that are tailored to one’s condition. Hearing aids make up the majority of treatment methods patients choose. Several well-known hearing aid manufacturers exist; it’s easy for patients to find a device that suits them. Today, many types and styles exist.
Alternatively, individuals can look for over-the-counter hearing aids. Before pursuing OTC hearing aids, seeking medical attention is highly recommended.
Besides standard hearing aids, individuals have other hearing assistive devices to choose from. Clients can choose between FM systems, cochlear implants, telecoil hearing aids, and various alerting devices. FM systems come with