Hearing is vitally important to quality of life. If you can’t hear as well as you want, you may miss out on living life the way you want to live it. You are not alone.
As many as 60 million people in the United States and Canada experience some form of hearing loss. Of course, as individuals age, the condition becomes even more common. More than two-thirds of all senior citizens report having difficulty hearing as well as they once did.
Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors. There are also different types of hearing loss. In this article, we take an in-depth look at sensorineural hearing loss. Continue reading for an explanation of this specific condition, a description of its symptoms and some treatment options.
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?
As mentioned above, there are different types of hearing loss. Usually, audiologists place an individual’s condition in one of the following three categories:
- Sensorineural hearing loss, which we discuss in greater detail in the next section of this article.
- Conductive hearing loss, which is usually caused by a blockage inside the ear. Earwax, tumors, ear infections, broken eardrums, and biological defects are usually the culprit. Medication, surgery or other procedures often fix conductive hearing loss.
- Mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
The most common type is sensorineural hearing loss. As such, we focus our attention on this form of the condition. Of course, the only way you know what type you have is to undergo an examination administered by a skilled medical professional.
Nonetheless, if you think you may have sensorineural hearing loss, the content of this article should help you better understand it. You should know, though, that this article is for informational purposes only.
As always, contact your doctor if you have questions about your ears. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, alert emergency responders.
What Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Nearly 90 percent of all hearing-loss patients experience symptoms brought on by sensorineural issues. If you have this type of hearing loss, you likely have damage to the hearing nerves in your inner near. You may also have a problem with the nerves that connect your inner ear to your brain.
As you probably know, your ear has tiny hair cells that help you hear. If you are hearing normally, these hair sells receive sound vibrations.
Because sensorineural hearing loss often comes from damaged hair cells, you have a diminished capacity to pick up sound vibrations with this type of hearing loss.
Simply put, when your brain receives sounds signals from hair cells or the connecting nerve, they may be too weak for your brain to interpret them.
Even if your brain realizes a sound is present, you may not understand what it is. For example, you may realize someone is speaking, but you may have trouble understanding the message.
Because sensorineural hearing loss comes from damaged nerves, it is usually a permanent condition. As such, surgery, medication, and other medical interventions don’t tend to fix the problem.
What Causes Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Unlike conductive hearing loss, sensorineural conditions are usually due to damaged nerve cells inside your ear. What causes this damage varies, however. Some individuals have a family history, giving them a genetic predisposition to developing sensorineural hearing loss.
The two most common risk factors that indicate whether you will develop sensorineural hearing loss are aging and exposure to loud noises. The good news is that you may be able to limit your risks by being wary of these causes.
This is specifically true with exposure to loud environments. We talk more about preventing sensorineural hearing loss later in this article.
Even though aging, exposure to loud noises, and a genetic predisposition are the most frequent causes of sensorineural hearing loss, there are a few other causes you should know about. Other contributors to the condition include the following:
- Concussions, head injuries or ear trauma
- Certain genetic medical conditions
- Meniere’s disease
- Other chronic disorders
Sensorineural hearing loss generally doesn’t happen instantly. Instead, individuals experience gradual degradation that they don’t notice until it has become moderate or severe.
If you are concerned about hearing loss, you may want to schedule annual hearing tests. These screenings can help identify symptoms before they become pronounced.
What Are the Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Because hearing loss is often gradual, you may not realize you have it until it reaches a certain level. Nonetheless, you can watch for certain warning signs that you may not be hearing as well as you would like to hear. The following symptoms are common:
- Difficulty understanding normal speech or conversations
- Trouble hearing in noisy environments
- Listening to music or watching television at high volumes
- Hearing muffled or echoey sounds
Many who experience sensorineural hearing loss report feeling overly tired. Since fatigue is a symptom of some serious conditions; you shouldn’t ignore it. Instead, speak with your physician about your health concerns.
He or she can likely determine if your fatigue is due to sensorineural hearing loss or another medical condition.
How Do You Prevent Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Because exposure to excessive noise is a common cause of sensorineural hearing loss, you can reduce your chances of being affected by limiting your exposure to loud environments.
If you work in a factory or other noisy area, wearing earplugs is a good idea. Also, if you attend a concert, taking steps to protect your ears from overwhelmingly loud music is an effective strategy to warding off sensorineural hearing loss.
You should remember that any sounds louder than 80 decibels can cause damage to hair cells inside your ear. To better understand how loud 80 decibels is, you should think about the sound of traffic when you are driving on the highway in your car with the windows closed. If you notice sounds louder than that, you should use precautionary measures to protect your ears.
A simple tip for safeguarding your hearing is to apply the 60/60 rule. When using headphones to listen to music, limit listening time to 60 minutes at 60 percent of your device’s volume.
Most modern smartphones and MP3 players alert you when you have turned the volume too high to be safe. Because many individuals turn up the volume on media players to drown out ambient noise, investing in noise-canceling headphones can help you keep your device’s volume at an appropriate level.
Everyone knows rock-and-roll concerts are loud. Nowadays, though, loud music isn’t exclusive to rock concerts. Instead, country, pop, bluegrass and classical music often blare from speakers.
To protect your ears from damage, never sit close to the stage. If you simply must see the facial features of your favorite performer, wear earplugs. Foam earplugs are cheap to buy and simple to use. They also keep loud sounds from damaging the sensitive hair cells in your ear.
Finally, remember that just because you are home does not mean you are out of the woods. When you are mowing the yard, operating power tools or watching TV, volumes can easily exceed 80 decibels. The same earplugs that protect your ears on the job or at concerts also work at home.
Conclusion: Your Hearing Is Too Important To Ignore Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Hearing is one of those senses that you don’t truly appreciate until it is gone. When you think about all the things you love to hear, the value of hearing becomes apparent. It is simply too important to risk the sort of damage that comes from sensorineural hearing loss.
While aging and environmental factors contribute to sensorineural hearing loss, you can watch for warning signs to know you may be experiencing it. You can also take steps to protect your ears from damage.
Wearing earplugs in noisy environments and limiting exposure to loud sounds are effective strategies.
Of course, you may not be able to fully manage sensorineural hearing loss without professional help. Your primary doctor likely has the equipment and skills to give you a full hearing exam.
During the fast, painless process, he or she may ask you to identify certain sounds. Your doctor will likely also want to visually inspect your ears using an otoscope.
If your doctor is unable to test your hearing, he or she may refer you to a hearing specialist or audiologist. For more serious conditions, your doctor may want you to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
If you notice the warning signs of hearing loss, you shouldn’t ignore them. Instead, think about scheduling an annual hearing test to gauge your hearing abilities. With a little bit of effort, you can likely access the information you need to make proactive decisions about your ear health.
Fortunately, if you are experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, there is help. Often, individuals hear significantly better with the assistance of hearing aids. Talk to your hearing specialist about which type of hearing aid is best for your situation.