These tiny hair cells, called stereocilia, can be damaged due to many factors, including noise exposure and normal aging, and once damaged they cannot be restored or repaired, resulting in permanent hearing. loss. Damage to the nerve pathways that lead from the inner ear to the brain can also cause SNHL.
Sounds and voices seem muffled. Holding a casual conversation during a restaurant dinner is a challenge. Your grandchildren are difficult to understand. You may even feel dizzy or have ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These are all symptoms of SNHL.
“Some of the early signs of sensorineural hearing loss include difficulty with speech volume and clarity, especially in background noise,” says Ishraq Alkibsi, clinical audiologist at Next Level Hearing Care. “For people with sensorineural hearing loss due to aging, high frequencies are most affected. Patients will report that they cannot hear high-pitched voices, such as the voices of women and children.
There are a number of causes of SNHL, including a blow to the head, reduced blood flow to the ear, certain medications that impact the inner ear, sudden changes in air pressure, tumors benign – the list goes on. But the most common causes are age-related hearing loss (known as presbycusis) and exposure to noise, whether continuous exposure to, for example, daily traffic, or from occasional exposure to something like a gunshot, jackhammer or firecrackers.
“There are many causes of hearing loss, and many of them are not mutually exclusive,” says Collins. “For example, you may have both a genetic link to hearing loss, but also be exposed to noise as an avid hunter.”
Types of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss can come on gradually or suddenly and can affect one or both ears, depending on the cause. For example:
- Asymmetric SNHL occurs when there is hearing loss on both sides, but one side is worse than the other.
- Bilateral progressive hearing loss occurs in both ears for several months. Also diagnosed as an autoimmune disease of the inner ear, this type of SNHL occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the inner ear.
- unilateral SNHL, or hearing loss in one ear, is usually caused by a tumor, conditions such as Ménière’s disease, or sudden exposure to loud noise.
- sudden snhl (also known as sudden deafness) is a rare emergency condition causing hearing loss of at least 30 decibels (the equivalent of normal whisper-like speech) instantly or over a period of three days, usually in one ear. People with sudden symptoms of SNHL should contact a medical professional promptly. While the majority of SNHLs are permanent, sudden SNHLs can be treated effectively by a doctor with steroid treatment if done immediately after onset, Collins says.
How it’s diagnosed
Doctors use several types of tests to diagnose sensorineural hearing loss. A physical exam can help rule out conductive hearing loss, which is caused by something — like earwax buildup — that blocks sounds from passing through the outer or middle ear. Specific tests include:
- Weber’s essay. The doctor gently strikes a 512 Hz tuning fork and places it near the midline of your scalp or on your forehead, nasal bones, or teeth. If the sound is louder in your affected ear, the hearing loss is likely conductive. If it’s louder in your unaffected ear, the hearing loss is probably sensorineural.
- Rinne test. Your doctor strikes a tuning fork and places it against your mastoid behind your ear until you can’t hear the sound. The doctor then moves the tuning fork in front of your ear canal until you no longer hear sound. If you have SNHL, you will be able to hear the tuning fork better in front of your ear canal than against your mastoid bone.
- Audiometric examinations. You wear headphones and hear sounds and words directed to each ear. Each tone is repeated at low levels to determine your hearing threshold and degree of hearing loss.
Although no treatment reverses hearing loss due to age or noise exposure, hearing aids can help amplify sound to the frequencies you need. Proper programming, testing, and fitting of hearing aids are important to ensure they meet your unique hearing loss. If your hearing loss is profound, you may benefit from a cochlear implant, which works by bypassing damaged hair cells and sending signals directly to the auditory nerve.
“There have been tremendous advancements in digital hearing aids as well as cochlear implants over the past five years,” says Collins. “Hearing aid features now use artificial intelligence to identify speech from background noise, help stream music or movies directly to your hearing aids, and some devices can even help alert a family member. family if they detect that the hearing aid user has fallen.”
Kimberly Goad is a New York-based journalist who has covered health for some of the nation’s leading mainstream publications. His work has appeared in Women’s Health, Men’s Health and Reader’s Digest.