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What Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

What is sensorineural hearing loss?

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is the most common category of hearing loss to affect otherwise healthy adults. It occurs when there is a problem with the inner ear―most often the cochlea or associated structures―or the hearing nerve pathway that connects the inner ear to the brain. SNHL is usually permanent and irreversible, however it is generally treatable with hearing aids

There are a number of different medical terms that can be used to describe specific types of SNHL. If the condition only presents on one side of the patient, it is known as unilateral sensorineural hearing loss. If it presents on both sides it is known as bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. It can range in severity from mild to moderate, severe, profound or even total.

If the pattern of hearing loss is the same in both ears, it is described as symmetrical. If it differs in each ear, it is known as asymmetrical. Additionally, it can be further described in relation to what frequencies of hearing are affected. Common descriptors related to frequency sensitivity include high frequency and low frequency among others. 

What are the signs and symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss?

Though SNHL can occasionally occur instantaneously or over the course of a few days, a condition known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss, the most common cause of SNHL is age-related. Progressive age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is usually a gradual process that takes place over the course of years. Because of this slow decline in sensitivity, it may be initially difficult to detect for patients. Early signs to look out for include increasing the volume of the television or radio to a point of discomfort for others, difficulty understanding conversation in noisy environments and feelings of self-consciousness or frustration due to communication issues.

Most often patients describe a sensation of diminished hearing when first getting assessed. Other common complaints include a plugged up feeling in their ear canal, ringing in the ears and vertigo or balance problems. 

What causes sensorineural hearing loss?

There are a great number of causes that can lead to SNHL. It may be either genetic or acquired, meaning it is brought about by a reason other than the patient’s genetics. SNHL can be congenital, meaning present at birth, but it is more likely to develop over time. Age-related hearing loss is the most common cause of SNHL, but it is not the only one. Other causes of SNHL include exposure to loud noises, head trauma, perinatal conditions, ototoxic medications and numerous medical diseases or disorders like strokes or meningitis. 

How is sensorineural hearing loss diagnosed?

The most common form of diagnosis for SNHL is audiometry. Audiometry is a type of hearing test conducted by a hearing specialist on a device known as an audiometer. The result of this test, known as an audiogram, is interpreted by the hearing specialist to determine the type and severity of hearing loss a patient is experiencing.

If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, schedule a free exam with a Miracle-Ear hearing specialist today.

How can sensorineural hearing loss be treated?

Though SNHL is occasionally treated with surgical interventions such as cochlear implants, this is generally not an option for most types of SNHL. Similarly, a very limited number of pharmacological treatments exist. In the rare cases where medication is prescribed, it usually treats the underlying cause of SNHL to prevent further hearing degradation rather than improving hearing overall.

By far the most common form of SNHL treatment is sound amplification with hearing aids. Hearing aids are medical devices that increase the volume of sound stimulus to a range where it becomes audible again for the patient. Hearing aids are attuned specifically to a patient’s audiogram results to provide hearing support where it is most needed. There are even a number of different hearing aid types that fit almost any lifestyle.

With proper professional guidance and a well-considered plan of intervention, it is possible to minimize the impact of sensorineural haring loss on your day-to-day life. Find a Miracle-Ear location near you today to discover your hearing support solutions.

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