Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) – occurring with inner ear damage – is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.
The tiny hair cells in the cochlea are lost throughout our lifetimes, causing our hearing to gradually become less sharp. In addition to the natural aging process, these hair cells can become damaged by exposure to excessive noise.
Someone with SNHL may have difficulty hearing soft sounds, while even loud sounds may be muffled. Although medications or surgery cannot typically resolve SNHL, hearing aids are likely to significantly improve the person’s ability to hear.
SNHL differs from the other types of hearing loss – conductive and mixed hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss, which occurs in the outer and middle ear, can often be resolved with medicine and surgery. Mixed hearing loss is damage to the outer or middle ear as well as the inner ear. This type of loss can often be assisted by audiologists.
Causes of SNHL
This type of hearing loss can stem from the following:
- Diseases: Conditions such as mumps, multiple sclerosis, meningitis and Meniere’s disease have been tied to SNHL.
- Medications: Ototoxic drugs – those that can cause hearing loss – include aspirin, quinine, cisplatin or antibiotics such as gentamicin and streptomycin.
- Hereditary: This hearing loss can run in the family.
- Loud noises and explosions: SNHL is becoming more common, partially due to the increased listening of loud music in headphones and exposure to excessive environmental noise.
- Issues at birth: SNHL can occur when a mother had rubella (German measles) during pregnancy or if the child’s birth weight was low.
- Head damage: A blow to the head can damage the inner ear.