Sensorineural Hearing Loss Treatment

There are three main types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common of the three types, being the cause of more than 90% of adults’ hearing loss. 

types of hearing loss

Your cochlea (inner ear) is filled with lots of tiny hairs known as ‘stereocilia’. These hairs turn sound vibrations that enter your ear into signals transmitted to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when these tiny hairs become damaged. 

Sensorineural hearing loss can range from mild to severe hearing loss depending on the amount of damage to your ear:

  • Mild Hearing Loss: Hearing loss between 26 and 40 decibels.
  • Moderate Hearing Loss: Hearing loss between 41 and55 decibels.
  • Severe Hearing Loss: Hearing loss of 71 decibels or more. 

While this hearing condition is not necessarily dangerous, it can hinder your ability to communicate with others and negatively impact your overall quality of life. In this article, we go in depth on what sensorineural loss is and how to adequately prevent or treat it depending on your current hearing situation. 

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

 

Sensorineural hearing loss is either congenital (present from birth) or acquired.

    • Congenital Hearing Loss: Congenital sensorineural hearing loss is a very common birth abnormality, occurring in 1 to 3 babies per 1,000 births. This type of hearing loss is developed in the womb due to genetics or environmental factors including: a lack of oxygen during birth, a premature birth, disease, infection, and more. 
    • Acquired Hearing Loss: Acquired sensorineural hearing loss is typically due to exposure to loud noises or aging. 
      • Exposure to Loud Noises: Extended exposure to sounds over 85 decibels or even one time exposures to very loud sounds such as fireworks, gunshots, or explosions can cause permanent hearing damage.
      • Aging: Presbycusis - the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most individuals as they grow older - is remarkably common in adults. In fact, 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 struggle with hearing loss. However, most adults do not realize that  this loss of hearing is happening to them because it occurs over an extended period of time rather than being an immediate change. 

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL)

Middle aged guy who cant hear

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), also commonly known as ‘sudden deafness’ is a rapid and unexplainable loss of hearing either instantly or over the course of a few days. This condition typically affects only one of the ears and many people first notice it among waking up in the morning. SSHL implies that there is something wrong with the sensory organs of the cochlea. It is often left undiagnosed due to people thinking their hearing loss is being caused by a sinus infection, allergies, or ear wax buildup. Fortunately, about half of those who develop SSHL spontaneously get most or all of their hearing back within two weeks of the initial hearing loss.  However, the odds of gaining your hearing back can decrease if SSHL goes untreated, so it is imperative that you see a medical professional as soon as you experience any symptoms. 

Common symptoms are as follows:

  • A loud popping noise in your ear directly prior to your hearing loss.
  • Ringing in your ears (which is often caused by tinnitus).
  • Feeling like your ear is full of something such as liquid.
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed .
What Causes SSHL?
  • Tumors
  • Infections
  • Medications
  • Head trauma
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Autoimmune diseases

How is SSHL Diagnosed and Treated?

doctor looking at patients ear with otoscope

Once you visit your doctor, they will check if your hearing issue is a form of conductive hearing loss - when sounds cannot get through the outer and middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is due to earwax buildup, fluid in the ear, ear infections, an obstruction in the ear, and more. Once this potential cause is ruled out, you will likely be ordered a pure tone hearing test. Once diagnosed with SSHL, a series of various tests will be ordered for you to find the underlying cause of the sudden deafness. The most common treatment option for SSHL is a prescription for corticosteroids - a class drug that lowers inflammation in the body. The best way to take the steroid is through a direct injection into the middle ear to reduce inflammation and fight off infections. However, the steroid can also be taken orally. Regardless, the steroid should be taken as soon as SSHL symptoms occur for the best results. As, delayed treatment can result in permanent hearing loss. 

Types of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

There are three different kinds of sensorineural hearing loss:

  • Bilateral sensorineural hearing loss:  This is when you experience sensorineural hearing loss symptoms in both ears.
  • Unilateral sensorineural hearing loss: This is when sensorineural hearing loss only affects one of your ears.
  • Asymmetrical sensorineural hearing loss: This type occurs when there is hearing loss in both ears but one ear experiences the symptoms worse than the other.

Signs of Sensorineural Hearing Loss 

Ear that can't hear a person talking

Sensorineural hearing loss can lead to:

  • Tinnitus 
  • Sounds and voices seeming like they are muffled or distorted.
  • Difficulty hearing sounds when background noise is present.
  • Difficulty with balancing.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched tones.
  • Having trouble understanding people.

How Will Sensorineural Hearing Loss Affect How I Hear?

Sensorineural hearing loss affects the noise level and overall clarity of the noises you hear. It can alter all ranges of hearing but it is most typical to experience high-frequency hearing loss - having trouble hearing sounds in the 2,000 to 8,000 Hz range. So it is likely that you will not be able to hear high-pitched sounds very well. Sensorineural hearing loss can also make the way you hear sounds become uncomfortable. Meaning, you will find normal sounds too soft and loud sounds too loud, which can become very frustrating. One of the most common complaints of those with sensorineural hearing loss is the difficulty to understand speech. It’s like you can hear that a person is talking to you but you cannot quite understand what they are saying, especially if background noise is present. 


These symptoms can be overwhelming and increasingly frustrating to deal with. Therefore, if you are experiencing any of these signs of hearing loss, be sure to make an appointment with a hearing care professional to get your hearing checked. Check out our article on where to get a hearing test for more information on how and where to find a good hearing care professional for your situation. 

Diagnosing Sensorineural Hearing Loss

infographic on tuning forks

There are multiple different types of tests used to adequately diagnose sensorineural hearing loss:

  • Audiometry Exams: Your doctor might send you to an audiologist or hearing care professional to get an audiometry exam. Audiometry exams measure the functionality of your cochlea in terms of hearing. It does this by testing how your ear reacts to the intensity and tone of different sounds.
  • Physical Exams: A physical exam of the ear will help rule out the potential cause being conductive hearing loss. The exam will likely consist of your doctor looking in your ear with an otoscope to check for inflammation, earwax buildup, fluids, or really any kind of internal obstruction.
  • Tuning Forks: Tuning forks are yet another way to distinguish sensorineural hearing loss from conductive hearing loss. Rinne and Weber tests are the most common form of tuning forks tests. Both use 512-Hz tuning forks to measure your ears response to sounds and vibrations.
      • Rinne Test: A rinne hearing test will examine hearing loss by comparing air conduction to bone conduction. Your doctor will strike a tuning fork and place it behind your ear (on the bone). You will be told to signal your doctor when you can no longer hear any sound and then they will move the fork in front of your ear canal. You will again need to signal to your doctor when you can no longer hear the sound. If you do have sensorineural hearing loss, the sound of the tuning fork will be louder to you when it is right in front of your ear canal rather than behind it.
      • Weber Test: For this test, your doctor will place the tuning fork by the middle of your forehead. If the sound is louder in the ear you are not experiencing any symptoms in, your hearing loss is likely sensorineural hearing loss. Otherwise, the hearing loss you are experiencing is probably conductive. 

Treatment for Sensorineural Hearing Loss

There is currently no surgical treatment for sensorineural hearing loss, but there are options to help compensate for your hearing loss. Such as:

  • Hearing Aids: With recent technology, there are hearing aids that are programmable to your unique hearing loss case. For example, if you have trouble hearing low-pitched sounds, you can get a hearing aid that amplifies low-pitched sounds, without making sounds too loud. Audien Hearing makes high quality, affordable hearing aids with this specific function so be sure to check out our products if you struggle with hearing soft to normal pitched sounds. You are just a few clicks away!
  • Cochlear Implants: Another option is cochlear implants - an electronic device, surgically inserted in your ear, that partially restores hearing. These are typically used if your symptoms can no longer be helped by hearing aids. Cochlear implants are a great option only if you have a severe case of sensorineural hearing loss, as they can be costly and are meant to last a lifetime. 

Sensorineural hearing loss can get progressively worse over time if it is due to age related causation or it is left untreated for too long. Thus, if you or a loved one are experiencing any symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss seek a doctor right away to prevent further hearing damage. 

Conclusion

While sensorineural hearing loss is an ordinary part of the aging process, it is exhausting to deal with so it is important that all environmental causes should be avoided or kept to a minimum. Follow healthy hearing habits to prevent further hearing damage or hearing damage altogether. 

The most important habits to follow are:

  • Getting your hearing checked regularly.
  • Avoiding exposure to loud noises. 
  • Taking medications only as directed. 
  • Keeping your ears dry.
  • Keeping cotton swabs out of your ears.

Thank you for reading this article,

Kathleen Williams

Senior Editor, Audien Hearing

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