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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:

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

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. 14-4233. Updated: March 2014.

Chau JK, Lin, JRJ, Atashband, S, Irvine, RA, Westerberg, BD. Systematic review of the evidence for the etiology of adult sensorineural hearing loss. The Laryngoscope. 2010, Vol 120(5): 1011-1021.


Review Date: 5/18/2014
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. 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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