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Sensorineural deafness

Definition

Sensorineural deafness is a type of hearing loss. It 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; Presbycusis

Considerations

Symptoms may include:

  • Some sounds seem too loud.
  • You have problems following conversations when two or more people are talking.
  • You have problems hearing in noisy areas.
  • It is easier to hear men's voices than women's voices.
  • It is hard to tell high-pitched sounds (such as "s" or "th") from one another.
  • Other people's voices sound mumbled or slurred.
  • You have problems hearing when there is background noise.

Other symptoms include:

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

Causes

The inner part of the ear contains tiny hair cells (nerve endings), that 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 that is present at birth (congenital) is most often due to:

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

In some cases, the cause is unknown.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The goal of treatment is to improve 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.

You will also learn strategies for living with hearing loss and advice to share with those around you for talking to someone with hearing loss.

References

Arts HA. Sensorineural hearing loss in adults. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 150.

Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 152.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Noise-induced hearing loss. NIH Pub. No. 14-4233. Updated May 15, 2015. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss. Accessed June 28, 2016.

Shibata SB, Shearer AE, Smith RJH. Genetic sensorineural hearing loss. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 148.

Review Date:5/25/2016
Reviewed By:Sumana Jothi, MD, specialist in laryngology, Assistant Clinical Professor, UCSF Otolaryngology, NCHCS VA, SFVA, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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