Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Understanding "nerve deafness"

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, sensorineural hearing loss (also known as nerve deafness) is the third most common disorder in people over age 65. Among males in that demographic, it is actually the most common. Even though it is most prevalent in seniors, the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) studies have shown that sensorineural hearing loss affects one in eight people over the age of twelve in the United States.

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How sensorineural loss develops

This disorder that occurs when inner ear nerve damage prevents sound information from reaching the brain is a leading cause of having difficulty hearing.

Individuals develop sensorineural loss either from an “acquired” loss or a “congenital” hearing loss. Acquired losses develop after birth; congenital (sometimes called inherited) hearing loss happens in the womb or during birth. Sensorineural deficiencies can vary in degree from mild to profound, and tend to worsen slowly over time, depending on the cause.

Sensorineural symptoms can include:

  • Inability to hear sounds clearly and fully
  • Requesting frequent repetition of statements
  • Needing to stare at the person speaking to try and "mouth read" their audible words
  • Fatigue from straining to hear

What triggers nerve deafness?

As with many other conditions, understanding what causes it helps in choosing the right treatment option for you. Sensorineural loss may have a single or multiple contributing factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Age-related hearing loss (aka presbycusis)
  • Exposure to noise
  • Family history and genetics
  • Infection (otitis media and/or external otitis)
  • Illness, such as a heart condition or stroke
  • Head trauma and/or injuries
  • Medicines that harm the auditory system (“ototoxic” drugs)
  • Burst eardrum (“tympanic perforation”)
  • Allergies
  • Ménière's disease
  • A nerve disorder
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction

Unless caused by ototoxins (drugs or other substances toxic to the ear), sensorineural hearing loss tends to be permanent and symptoms usually worsen over time. Patients may also have mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

Sensorineural symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty understanding when people speak if there is background noise
  • Sounds seem unclear or people sound like they are mumbling
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears. Tinnitus is common with this type of loss.

Feeling out of touch? Know the signs

Have you or someone else noticed these signs recently:

  • Difficulty following conversations involving more than two people
  • Trouble retaining oral information in public, such as at restaurants, stores or at work
  • Speaking on the phone is increasingly difficult

The team at Oviatt is happy to discuss your concerns and give you a professional opinion.

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