girl cupping ear

Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Do you struggle to hear every now and then? It could be more serious than you may first suspect. 90 percent of all hearing loss is sensorineural in nature, meaning a lifelong condition.

Understanding the different types of hearing loss

There are three types of hearing loss: Conductive, sensorineural and a mix of both. Conductive hearing loss occurs when a blockage occurs within the middle or inner ear canal. This can be due to many causes ranging from an impaction or build up of earwax, a foreign object lodged in the ear, an abnormal bone growth, tumor, or ear infection. When these blockages develop, they inhibit sound from reaching the inner ear and the brain, causing sounds to be muffled and obscured. The good news is that in most cases removing the obstruction can return hearing to its normal capability.

What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common type of hearing loss resulting in a wide range of contributing factors including predisposition to damage as we age, exposure to loud sounds, impact to the head, certain medications, some environmental toxins, chronic ear infections and even chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes which affect the flow of blood to the ears. However, the main cause of all of these causes of sensorineural hearing loss is damage to the cells of the inner ear.

Understanding How We Hear

While we collect sound with our ears, hearing and listening actually occurs in the brain. To reach the brain, sound must travel into our ear canal where it meets the eardrum and ossicles in the middle ear. From there sound continues to be amplified and sent to a tiny snail shaped organ called the cochlea. Within the cochlea are tiny hair like cells called stereocilia, surrounded in fluid. As vibration of sound enters the cochlea, it moves the fluid which in turn triggers the stereocilia.

Stereocilia transform the audio vibrations into electrical impulses which are sent to the brain. These cells are very fragile and prone to damage from many of the previously listed causes. When this occurs certain tones and pitches can no longer reach the brain. The more damage inflicted to the stereocilia the more severe the decibel range which can no longer reach the brain.

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sometimes people are born with sensorineural hearing loss and this is referred to as congenital hearing loss. Any loss after this point is considered acquired hearing loss. Acquired hearing loss can happen at any point from many of the causes listed above. In cases of congenital hearing loss it is caused often by illnesses from the parent while in the womb including, toxoplasmosis, rubella or herpes.

Knowing the Signs of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can develop slowly and subtly over time making it often difficult to self diagnose. However, it’s important to know the signs and catch them early. Unaddressed hearing loss can progress into serious health conditions which range from emotional, cognitive, and physical. For one, as years go by, communication barriers add up at home and at work. In the workplace untreated hearing loss has been shown to cause higher rates of unemployment and be passed up for raises. At home communication issues build up into rifts which affect self-esteem, sense of self and increase the likeliness of chronic depression. Struggles with socializing cause people to opt out of social situations, causing loneliness and increasing the risk of dementia for older adults with hearing loss. Even more alarming is the risk to your cognitive and physical health. Hearing loss has been shown to increase the risk of dementia and increase the likelihood of suffering a fall.

Common signs of hearing loss include:

  • You struggle to hear over the phone even with the volume up.
  • You have to ask people to repeat themselves frequently
  • You struggle to hear conversations in noisy rooms with multiple speakers
  • You experience tinnitus (a ringing in the ears)
  • People’s voices seem muffled at times
  • Others complain you listen to the TV too loud when it seems fine to you.
  • Noises may seem too loud or too quiet (yes, too loud!)

Treating Sensorineural Hearing Loss

While there is no cure for hearing loss we can recommend treatment to help. To find out if you have hearing loss and what we can do for you to improve your quality of life for years to come, contact us today to schedule your next hearing exam.