Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Written by the Nano Hearing Aids Team
Reviewed for Accuracy by Lindsay Roberts, AuD.

Lindsay Roberts
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Key Takeaways

  • Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is caused by damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve.
  • Common symptoms include difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments, and a sense of muffled hearing.
  • While SNHL is generally irreversible, there are effective treatments such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and therapeutic interventions.
  • Early detection and treatment are crucial for the best possible outcome.
  • Lifestyle changes and protective measures can help prevent further hearing loss.
  • Nano OTC hearing aids offer a cost-effective and convenient option for mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss, requiring no custom fitting and easy self-adjustment.

What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there's damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Unlike other types of hearing lossSNHL is usually permanent because it involves damage to the nerves or hair cells, which do not regenerate.

Understanding this condition is the first step toward effective management. Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) varies in severity from mild to profound, depending on the extent of damage.

Degrees of sensorineural hearing loss:

  • Mild sensorineural hearing lossInvolves a decrease in hearing sensitivity ranging from 26 to 40 decibels.
  • Moderate sensorineural hearing lossCharacterized by a reduction in hearing ability between 41 to 55 decibels.
  • Severe sensorineural hearing lossRefers to a significant loss of hearing, exceeding 71 decibels.

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Several factors can lead to sensorineural hearing loss. Age-related changes, exposure to loud noise, infections, head trauma, and certain medications are among the most common causes. Additionally, genetic predisposition can play a role, making some individuals more susceptible to this condition.

Common Causes:

  • Aging ProcessHearing naturally diminishes over time, with age-related hearing loss being a common phenomenon.
  • Loud Noise ExposureFrequent encounters with high-volume sounds can damage hearing, affecting the inner ear's functionality.
  • Viruses or InfectionsCertain illnesses can lead to hearing loss, either through direct damage or complications arising from the infection.
  • Head InjuriesTrauma to the head can impact hearing abilities, potentially damaging the auditory system.
  • Ototoxic MedicationsSome medications have side effects that can harm hearing, leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss.
  • Genetic FactorsHereditary traits can influence susceptibility to hearing loss, with some individuals genetically predisposed to auditory issues.

Each of these causes can affect the delicate structures within the ear differently, leading to varying degrees of hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss can vary widely from person to person, but they often include difficulty understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments, a sense of muffled hearing, and frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly, and loudly.

Look out for these indicators:

  • Difficulty Understanding SpeechStruggling to comprehend words, particularly when there's background noise present.
  • Muffled HearingExperiencing sounds as if they are distant or unclear, leading to distorted auditory perception.
  • TinnitusEncountering a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears, even in the absence of external sounds.
  • High-Pitched Sound IssuesFacing challenges in hearing or distinguishing high-frequency sounds.
  • Ear FullnessA feeling of fullness in the ear. 

These symptoms can have a significant impact on daily life, making it hard to communicate with others and leading to social isolation if not properly managed.

Diagnosing Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Diagnosis starts with a thorough hearing evaluation by a hearing professional or hearing instrument specialist. This typically includes a physical examination of the ears and a series of hearing tests, such as audiometry, to assess the type and severity of hearing loss. Early diagnosis is essential for effective treatment and adapting to the condition.

Treatment Options for Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Although sensorineural hearing loss is typically irreversible, there are several treatment options available that can significantly improve hearing ability and overall quality of life. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the hearing loss and the specific needs of the individual.

Hearing Aids: Features and Types

Hearing aids are the most common treatment for sensorineural hearing loss. They amplify sound to a level that the damaged ear can detect. Modern hearing aids come in various styles, each with its own set of features designed to cater to different lifestyles and degrees of hearing loss.

Nano Hearing Aids

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) aids: These fit over the ear and are connected to a custom earpiece or earbud.
  • Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) aidsThese are behind the ear devices where the receiver or speaker is hard wired to sit in the ear canal, instead of in the housing of the hearing aid
  • In-the-ear (ITE) aids: These are custom-made to fit within the outer ear.
  • In-the-canal (ITC) aids: These are smaller and fit partly in the ear canal.
  • Completely-in-canal (CIC) aids: These are nearly invisible as they fit completely in the ear canal.

It's important to determine the best type and fit for you and learn how to use and maintain the hearing aid properly.  OTC hearing aids are an affordable option that does not require an audiologist. 

Advanced Treatments: Cochlear Implants and Beyond

For those with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss, cochlear implants may be an option. These devices bypass damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants can provide a sense of sound to people who are profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing.

Another advanced treatment option is bone-anchored hearing systems. These devices transmit sound through the skull bone directly to the inner ear, providing another route for sound to reach the auditory system.

Research into gene therapy and hair cell regeneration also holds promise for future treatment possibilities.

Therapeutic Interventions and Rehabilitation

Beyond hearing devices, therapeutic interventions play a crucial role in managing sensorineural hearing loss. Auditory training and speech reading are techniques that can help individuals interpret sounds more effectively and understand speech better, even in noisy environments.

Rehabilitation programs, often led by a hearing professional or speech-language pathologists, can help individuals adapt to their hearing aids or cochlear implants and learn strategies for communicating more effectively.

Living with Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Adjusting to life with sensorineural hearing loss involves more than just using hearing aids or other devices. It's about creating an environment that supports communication. For example, using assistive listening devices in public spaces, ensuring good lighting for lip reading, and reducing background noise at home can all make a significant difference.

Support groups and counseling can also be beneficial, providing a space to share experiences and learn from others who are facing similar challenges.

Living with Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Can Sensorineural Hearing Loss be Prevented?

While not all causes of sensorineural hearing loss can be prevented, there are steps one can take to minimize the risk:

  • Utilize ear protectionIn environments with elevated noise levels, like concerts or construction sites, wearing earplugs or earmuffs can significantly mitigate the sound intensity entering your ears.
  • Limit exposure to loud soundsMinimize the time spent around high-decibel noises, including those emanating from personal audio devices or industrial equipment, to safeguard your hearing.
  • Schedule periodic hearing evaluationsRegularly assess your hearing, especially if you're exposed to workplace noise or have a genetic predisposition to hearing loss, to catch and address any issues early.
  • Control underlying health issuesActively manage conditions like diabetes or hypertension that can negatively impact your hearing health.

By taking these precautions, you can help protect your hearing and potentially prevent or delay the onset of sensorineural hearing loss.

Nano OTC Hearing Aids for Perceived Mild to Moderate Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Nano OTC

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, such as those offered by Nano, are a more accessible option for those with perceived mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss. These devices are designed to be used without the need for a custom fitting by a hearing professional, making them a cost-effective and convenient solution for many people. With Nano OTC hearing aids, select the dome size that fits your ears best, activate them, and place them in your ears. Remember, it may take a few days to weeks for your ears and brain to adjust to them.

Shop Nano OTC Hearing Aids

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are the early signs of Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

The early signs of sensorineural hearing loss can be subtle and easily overlooked. They often include difficulty understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments, frequently asking people to repeat themselves, and a tendency to increase the volume on devices like televisions and phones. Some may also experience tinnitus, which is a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears that others do not hear.

Can Sensorineural Hearing Loss worsen over time?

Yes, sensorineural hearing loss can worsen over time, especially if the underlying cause, such as exposure to loud noise or an untreated medical condition, continues to affect the inner ear. Regular hearing evaluations are important to monitor any changes in hearing ability.

How can I communicate effectively with someone who has Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Effective communication with someone who has sensorineural hearing loss involves a few key strategies:

  • Face the person directly and ensure your mouth is visible for lip-reading.
  • Reduce background noise as much as possible.
  • Speak clearly, at a moderate pace, and do not shout.
  • Use gestures and facial expressions to give context to your words.
  • Be patient and ready to repeat or rephrase if necessary.

Are there specific jobs that people with Sensorineural Hearing Loss should avoid?

While individuals with sensorineural hearing loss can succeed in a wide range of careers, it's important to consider the hearing demands of certain jobs. Professions with high noise exposure or those requiring critical auditory abilities might pose challenges. However, with the right accommodations and hearing devices, many of these challenges can be mitigated.

Can sensorineural hearing loss be treated with surgery or medication?

Sensorineural hearing loss is typically not treatable with surgery or medication, as the condition often results from irreversible damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. The primary treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices, as well as therapeutic strategies to improve communication. In cases of severe and profound hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be an option.  Cochlear implants require a very sophisticated surgery.

Can Nano OTC hearing aids help with sensorineural hearing loss?

Yes, Nano OTC hearing aids can help manage sensorineural hearing loss by its features such as noise cancellation, directional microphones, Bluetooth connectivity, and even smartphone compatibility, making it easier to hear.

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