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Common Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

by Debbie Clason for Healthy Hearing

February 6, 2018 - If you’ve recently been diagnosed with hearing loss, you’re in good company. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one in eight people in the United States over the age of 12 has hearing loss in both ears. Of the three types of hearing loss, more than 90 percent is sensorineural.

What is sensorineural hearing loss?

Having sensorineural hearing loss means you have damage to the hair cells in your inner ear or to the nerve pathways that lead from the inner ear to the brain. While much of sensorineural hearing loss is age-related, there are other factors that may cause it, too. Many people with sensorineural hearing loss report that they can hear, but they cannot understand speech. This is especially true in the presence of background noise, and it can be frustrating.

There are two types of sensorineural hearing loss: congenital and acquired sensorineural hearing loss.

Congenital sensorineural hearing loss happens during pregnancy. Some causes include:

  • Prematurity
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Lack of oxygen during birth
  • Genetics
  • Diseases passed from the mother to child in the womb, such as rubella

Acquired sensorineural hearing loss occurs after birth. Causes can include:

  • Aging: One of the most common conditions of growing older is presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, affecting one in three Americans between the ages of 65-74. Because this type of loss occurs over time, typically in both ears, it’s sometimes difficult to notice.
  • Noise: According to the NIDCD, approximately 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL can be caused by exposure to a one-time loud noise, such as an explosion, or to sounds louder than 85 decibels (dB) over an extended period of time. If you have to shout to be heard or your ears ring after attending a live concert or ballgame, your hearing health is at risk.
  • Disease and infections: Viral infections, such as measles, meningitis and mumps can cause sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Head or acoustic trauma: Damage to your inner ear can also be caused by a blow to the head or exposure to an extremely loud noise, such as an explosion. Many of our veterans suffer from sensorineural hearing loss due to time they spent around firearms, artillery and jet engines.
  • Tumors: Examples of common tumors include acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that affects the auditory system and cholesteatoma, an abnormal skin growth in the middle ear.
  • Medications: According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), more than 200 medications and chemicals are ototoxic, or damaging to your hearing health. Some of those known to cause permanent damage include certain types of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications and cancer chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin and carboplatin.

Treatment for sensorineural hearing loss

Although most sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, many with presbycusis or acquired sensorineural hearing loss may benefit from wearing hearing aids. Those with severe sensorineural hearing loss – congenital or acquired – may benefit from a cochlear implant, an electronic hearing device which is surgically implanted directly into the inner ear with an external portion worn behind the ear.

Of course, the first step to better hearing is to have a thorough hearing examination from a qualified hearing healthcare professional. They can work with you to determine the cause and extent of your hearing loss, as well as develop an individualized plan to treat it.

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