What You Should Know About Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Man holding hand to ear struggling to hear

Your odds of developing hearing loss at some point in your life are regrettably very high, even more so as you age. In the United States, 48 million people report some degree of hearing loss, including nearly two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.

That’s the reason it’s important to understand hearing loss, so that you can identify the signs and symptoms and take preventive actions to avoid damage to your hearing. In this blog post, we’re going to focus on the most widespread type of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.

The three types of hearing loss

Generally speaking, there are three types of hearing loss:

  1. Conductive hearing loss
  2. Sensorineural hearing loss
  3. Mixed hearing loss (a mix of sensorineural and conductive)

Conductive hearing loss is less common and is triggered by some form of blockage in the outer or middle ear. Typical causes of conductive hearing loss include ear infections, perforated eardrums, benign tumors, impacted earwax, and genetic malformations of the ear.

However, sensorineural hearing loss is far more common.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This form of hearing loss is the most common and accounts for about 90 percent of all documented hearing loss. It is the result of damage to the hair cells (the nerves of hearing) of the inner ear or to the nerves running from the inner ear to the brain.

With sensorineural hearing loss, sound waves enter through the external ear, strike the eardrum, and reach the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, as a consequence of destruction to the hair cells (the tiny nerve cells of hearing), the sound signal that is transferred to the brain for processing is weakened.

This diminished signal is perceived as faint or muffled and usually affects speech more than other kinds of lower-pitched sounds. Additionally, unlike conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss tends to be permanent and cannot be remedied with medication or surgery.

Causes and symptoms

Sensorineural hearing loss has various potential causes, including:

  • Genetic disorders
  • Family history of hearing loss
  • Meniere’s Disease or other disorders
  • Head injuries
  • Benign tumors
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • The aging process (presbycusis)

The last two, exposure to loud noise and the aging process, represent the most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is actually great news since it suggests that most cases of hearing loss can be avoided (you can’t avoid aging, obviously, but you can limit the collective exposure to sound over the course of your lifetime).

To fully grasp the signs and symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should keep in mind that damage to the nerve cells of hearing usually occurs very gradually. Consequently, the symptoms progress so slowly and gradually that it can be nearly impossible to detect.

A small amount of hearing loss each year will not be very perceptible to you, but after a number of years it will be very apparent to your family and friends. So while you may think everybody is mumbling, it could very well be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.

Here are some of the symptoms to watch for:

  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Difficulty following conversions, especially with more than one person
  • Turning up the TV and radio volume to elevated levels
  • Consistently asking others to repeat themselves
  • Experiencing muffled sounds or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Becoming excessively exhausted at the end of the day

If you recognize any of these symptoms, or have had people tell you that you may have hearing loss, it’s a good idea to arrange a hearing exam. Hearing tests are quick and painless, and the sooner you treat your hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to preserve.

Prevention and treatment

Sensorineural hearing loss is largely preventable, which is good news since it is by far the most common form of hearing loss. Millions of cases of hearing loss in the US could be eliminated by implementing some simple precautionary measures.

Any sound higher than 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially damage your hearing with prolonged exposure.

As the decibel level increases, the amount of time of safe exposure decreases. Which means at 100 decibels (the volume of a rock concert), any exposure over 15 minutes could damage your hearing.

Here are some tips on how you can prevent hearing loss:

  • Use the 60/60 rule – when listening to a portable music player through headphones, listen for no more than 60 minutes at no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Additionally, consider investing in noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
  • Protect your ears at concerts – concerts can range from 100-120 decibels, significantly above the threshold of safe volume (you could damage your hearing within 15 minutes). Limit the volume with the aid of foam earplugs or with musician’s plugs that maintain the quality of the music.
  • Protect your ears in the workplace – if you work in a loud occupation, talk with your employer about its hearing protection program.
  • Safeguard your hearing at home – a number of household and recreational activities produce high-decibel sounds, including power saws, motorcycles, and firework displays. Make sure that you always use ear protection during extended exposure.

If you currently have hearing loss, all is not lost. Hearing aids, while not able to completely restore your hearing, can substantially improve your life. Hearing aids can enhance your conversations and relationships and can protect against any further consequences of hearing loss.

If you think you might have sensorineural hearing loss, book your quick and simple hearing test today!

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