Sensorineural Deafness - A guide to Hearing Loss

This is one of three types of hearing loss the other two being conductive hearing loss and mixed hearing loss. The terms ‘hearing loss’ and ‘deafness’ are often considered to mean the same thing but this is still open to debate.

Some people argue that hearing loss is a spectrum which runs from mild through to severe whereas deafness means a complete absence of hearing. Sensorineural deafness (or hearing loss) is a collective term for a number of conditions in which the hairs within the inner ear become damaged; as a result of age or exposure to noise, which interferes with their ability to transmit sound waves to the brain.

Causes of sensorineural deafness

Age-related deafness or presbycusis is the most common form of deafness but others include:

  • Excessive exposure to music or noise
  • Genetic tendency
  • Benign tumour in the auditory nerve
  • Head injury
  • Congenital disorder/birth defect
  • Bacterial/viral infection
  • Certain medications such as antibiotics

This type of hearing loss can happen suddenly or over a long period of time. Sound waves travel as normal through the outer and middle ear but are disrupted once they reach the inner ear. The reason for this is damage to the hair cells that line the cochlear.

These cells normally enable sounds to pass through the cochlea where they transform into electrical signals which are then sent to the brain.

But if these decline in number - as a result of age or become damaged due to an infection, head injury, noise exposure or oxotoxic drugs then hearing will be affected.

This type of hearing loss can come on gradually due to the ageing process or happen quite suddenly because of an injury or a bacterial infection. It not only affects your ability to hear sound but also the quality of sound. By this we mean certain types of sounds, for example speech during a conversation. People with this hearing loss find that they can hear male speech but have great difficulty hearing female or children’s speech.

Hearing range

This is due to the fact that there is a natural decline in the top end of our hearing range as we age. Hearing range for humans is 20Hz to 20 kHz but this varies greatly between individuals. Some people find that they can hear the top end (high) frequencies easier than others but this ability starts to decline as they get older. So, a high frequency sound such as female speech will be harder to hear than a low frequency sound (male speech).

So if you are experiencing age-related hearing loss then ask your female friends to speak up a bit.

Treatment of sensorineural hearing loss

Once the hair cells have been damaged then they can’t be repaired which means that this hearing loss can’t be reversed. In other words, there is no way of curing it – as far as we know.

It can lead to a state of permanent deafness but there is a way of dealing with this which means a hearing aid. A hearing aid won’t restore your hearing but it will amplify everyday sounds so that you are able to hear them more easily. Find out more about hearing aids in our treatment for hearing loss section.

Hearing Loss

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