Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is the cause of around 90% of hearing loss in adults.
This condition occurs after inner ear damage, which may be caused by genetic factors (birth defect), exposure to loud noises, or the natural aging process.
A person experiencing sensorineural hearing loss may find it difficult to hear soft sounds. In some cases, even loud sounds may sound muffled or distorted.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most COMMON type of PERMANENT hearing loss. In most cases, surgery nor medications cannot fix sensorineural hearing loss. However, hearing aids may help.
SNHL may range from being mild, moderate, severe or profound. Visit any of our Ontario Hearing Centers at Brighton or Gates for diagnosis and management of sensorineural hearing loss.
The inner ear houses a spiraling organ called the cochlea. The cochlea contains tiny hairs known as stereocilia.
These hairs are responsible for converting the vibrations from sound waves into neural signals which are then carried by the auditory nerves to the brain. When a person is exposed to sounds higher than 85 decibels, the tiny hairs in the cochlea can be damaged which may trigger sensorineural hearing loss.
Most of the time, a person may not experience hearing loss until 30-50% of the tiny hairs inside the cochlea are damaged.
Depending on the degree of the damage, sensorineural hearing loss may be mild, moderate or severe.
Mild: hearing loss between 26-40 decibels
Moderate: loss between 41-55 decibels
Severe: loss more than 71 decibels.
Sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed through a hearing test. If the results show that a patient has lost at least 30 decibels in three connected frequencies, then the condition is tagged as sensorineural hearing loss.
To give you a clearer picture, a person who is diagnosed with a hearing loss of 30 decibels would hear normal, conversational speech as a whisper.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms
If the sensorineural hearing loss is gradual, the symptoms might not be observed without a hearing test (this is why regular hearing check-ups are important). On the other hand, sudden sensorineural hearing loss symptoms may present themselves within several days. A great number of people experience or notice the first symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss upon waking up.
Some tell-tale signs of sensorineural hearing loss may include:
-difficulty hearing sounds in noisy environments
-trouble understanding children’s and female voices
-difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
-dizziness or balance problems
-speech and sounds seem muffled
-hearing voices but not understanding
Diagnosing Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Audiologists use several tests to diagnose hearing loss and gather more information about the condition of the ears. Ontario Hearing Centers offer the ff. services:
Physical exam – this can help establish the difference between sensorineural hearing loss vs conductive hearing loss. We will search the ears for any signs of inflammation, earwax or fluid buildup, eardrum damage and foreign bodies.
Tuning forks – can be considered as an initial screening and may include Weber’s Test and Rinne Test.
Audiogram – this is a more accurate test performed by audiologists. A patient will wear headphones inside a soundproof booth and specific tones, words and sounds will be played into each ear at different frequencies and volumes.
The most common treatment for sudden sensorineural hearing loss is corticosteroids. These are also given as the primary intervention for SNHL with unknown causes.
Steroids are used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions by decreasing swelling, reducing inflammation and helping the body fight against illness. Before, steroids were only prescribed in pill form. However, thanks to recent medical developments, direct injection of steroids can already be administered.
Are steroids more effective in treating sensorineural hearing loss?
In a 2011 clinical trial supported by the NIDCD, results showed that intratympanic steroids were no less effective than the traditional oral steroids. If anything, injected steroids were less comfortable for patients.
Nevertheless, intratympanic steroids remain to be a great alternative for patients with sensorineural hearing loss who can’t take oral steroids.
Additional treatments for sensorineural hearing loss may also be recommended by a doctor if an underlying cause is determined. For example, if sensorineural hearing loss is triggered by an ototoxic drug, you may need to stop taking those medicines for a while OR you may be recommended to switch to another drug.
If sensorineural hearing loss is caused by an infection, antibiotics will be given. For people with autoimmune conditions that lead to a systemic attack on the inner ear, a doctor may prescribe drugs that aim to suppress the immune system.
Sensorineural hearing loss may be considered as a medical emergency if rapid loss of hearing is observed.
There are cases when people who experience sensorineural hearing loss put off seeing an audiologist thinking that this may just be caused by a simple sinus infection, earwax clogging the ear canal, etc.
The thing is, time is of the essence when it comes to dealing with sensorineural hearing loss. Delaying proper diagnosis and treatment may decrease the effectiveness of treatment and medical intervention.
And we wouldn’t want that, would we? As soon as you experience signs of hearing loss, whether mild or severe, we highly recommend seeking medical attention to check what’s going in with your ears. In this kind of case, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Learning about your condition will play a big role in the future of your hearing health.
Again, sensorineural hearing loss may not be a life-threatening condition, but it can interfere with one’s ability to communicate properly if not treated or managed properly.
Most people diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss may recover SOME or ALL of their hearing spontaneously, around one to two weeks from onset. But this does not mean that you can dilly-dally or put off seeing medical help.
85% of people with sensorineural hearing loss who seek treatment from an audiologist or otolaryngologist may also have greater chances of recovering their hearing.
In short, seeking medical help for sensorineural hearing loss increases the chances of recovery.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent. No surgery or medicine can repair the damage but there are interventions that can improve the condition. There is also a surgery that can bypass the damaged cells.
Hopefully, more options for hearing restoration can be made available. As of today, surgeries available for hearing loss can only correct a short list of very specific hearing losses. Meanwhile, people with common types of hearing loss can find solutions with hearing aids.
If you have sensorineural hearing loss, or any other type of hearing loss for that matter, we suggest that you see a hearing healthcare professional near you and get regular hearing evaluation to prevent further deterioration.
Hearing loss, in general, is plain loss of hearing. However, if we look closely into the details, hearing loss varies depending on what part of the ear is affected. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem in the auditory nerve or inner ear.
Meanwhile, conductive hearing loss is usually caused by a trauma or obstruction, hindering sounds to reach the inner ear.
Some people may also experience a mix of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This is the case when there are problems with and outside the cochlea. Obviously, one cannot simply diagnose himself without seeking medical attention. We cannot even see the insides of our ears with our naked eyes.
It is essential to get a proper diagnosis for hearing loss. The earlier treatment or intervention received, the higher the chances of damage control.
Types of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Asymmetrical sensorineural hearing loss occurs when both ears have hearing loss but one side is worse than the other.
Unilateral sensorineural hearing loss affects only one ear. It may be caused by Meniere’s disease, a tumor or exposure to sudden loud noise.
Bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, or hearing loss in both ears, is attributed more to genetics, exposure to loud noises and diseases like measles.
So let’s say you or a family member has been diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss. Does it worsen as time passes?
Partly, yes. Once you are diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss, you must know that this condition is progressive and MAY get worse over time. There’s a slight silver lining though, as most sensorineural hearing loss cases are expected to hit a plateau where the hearing thresholds will remain steady.
Disregarding sensorineural hearing loss, or any type of hearing loss, may result in cognitive impairment as some parts of the brain can deteriorate without aural stimulation and the brain ends up over compensating for the gaps in hearing.
This could lead to problems with concentration, memory and fatigue. Studies have also linked untreated hearing loss to dementia and Alzheimers. In short, there is no reason why sensorineural hearing loss should be left untreated.
If hearing aids can’t improve sensorineural hearing loss, cochlear implantation may be a viable alternative.
Cochlear implants are recommended for individuals with profound sensorineural hearing loss because it can bypass the damaged hair cells and directly transmits electrical impulses to the acoustic nerve.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment!