Much of your ability to hear is controlled by tiny nerve endings in your inner ear. If these nerve endings (or other parts of the inner ear) are damaged, the result is sensorineural hearing loss.
In most cases, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t lead to a complete inability to hear. The hearing loss is often limited to certain frequencies and sounds. You may notice that some types of sounds are much less distinct, while others are too loud for comfort. Noisy conditions may make it difficult for you to single out speech patterns. Tracking conversations can become difficult, particularly if several people are speaking, while men’s voices may sound sharper than women’s. Additional symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss are feelings of dizziness or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
There are many different causes of sensorineural deafness. Sensorineural hearing loss may be present at birth for some people. The disorder may have an underlying genetic cause. It can also come about from particular infections which can be passed from mother to child.
As a person matures, sensorineural deafness can be the result of a number of different causes. Exposure to an extremely loud noise – also called acoustic trauma – is one possible reason. Steady exposure to lower level noise, such as working with noisy equipment or listening to loud music, can also result in inner ear damage.
Sensorineural hearing loss can come on suddenly, such as in the case of viral infections. These infections include measles, meningitis and mumps. Meniere’s Disease, a syndrome that causes hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo, can also lead to fluctuating sensorineural hearing loss. Corticosteroids may prove helpful in these two cases.
Head trauma and abrupt changes in air pressure can cause sensorineural hearing loss, as can other physical issues such as tumors. Otosclerosis, a hereditary disorder in which a bony growth in the middle ear disrupts hearing, is another physical cause of this type of hearing loss.
Untreated sensorineural hearing loss often diminishes quality of life. Fortunately it can be improved or reversed in many cases.