Sensorineural deafness

Definition

Sensorineural deafness is hearing loss that occurs from damage to the inner ear, the nerve that runs from the ear to the brain (auditory nerve), or the brain.

Alternative Names

Nerve deafness; Hearing loss - sensorineural; Acquired hearing loss; SNHL; Noise-induced hearing loss; NIHL

Considerations

Symptoms may include:

  • Certain sounds seem too loud
  • Difficulty following conversations when two or more people are talking
  • Difficulty hearing in noisy areas
  • Easier to hear men's voices than women's voices
  • Hard to tell high-pitched sounds (such as "s" or "th") from one another
  • Other people's voices sound mumbled or slurred
  • Problems hearing when there is background noise

Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling of being off-balance or dizzy (more common with Meniere's disease and acoustic neuromas)
  • Ringing or buzzing sound in the ears (tinnitus)

Common Causes

The inner part of the ear contains tiny hair cells (nerve endings), which change sounds into electric signals. The nerves then carry these signals to the brain.

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is caused by damage to these special cells, or to the nerve fibers in the inner ear. Sometimes, the hearing loss is caused by damage to the nerve that carries the signals to the brain.

Sensorineural deafness can be present at birth (congenital), most often due to:

  • Genetic syndromes
  • Infections that the mother passes to her baby in the womb (toxoplasmosis, rubella, herpes)

Sensorineural hearing loss may develop in children or adults later in life (acquired) as a result of:

  • Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)
  • Disease of the blood vessels
  • Immune disease
  • Infections, such as meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever, and measles
  • Injury
  • Loud noises or sounds, or loud sounds that last for a long time
  • Meniere's disease
  • Tumor, such as acoustic neuroma
  • Use of certain medicines
  • Working around loud noises everyday

In some cases, the cause is unknown.

Home Care

Call your health care provider if

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Treatment is focused on improving your hearing. The following may be helpful:

  • Hearing aids
  • Telephone amplifiers and other assistive devices
  • Sign language (for those with severe hearing loss)
  • Speech reading (such as lip reading and using visual cues to aid communication)

A cochlear implant may be recommended for certain people with very severe hearing loss. Surgery is done to place the implant. The implant makes sounds seem louder, but does not restore normal hearing.

For information on treating age-related hearing loss, see: Presbycusis

References

Hildebrand MS, Husein M, Smith RJH. Genetic sensorineural hearing loss. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 147.

.

Arts HA. Sensorineural hearing loss in adults. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 149.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. NIH Pub. No. 97-4233. Updated: October 2008.