Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is far more common than many people probably assume, affecting more than 13% of the U.S. population over the age of 18. There are three main types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive and mixed, with sensorineural being by far the most common, accounting for over 90% of all cases. To understand sensorineural hearing loss, let’s first introduce the other varieties of hearing loss so that we can rule out what sensorineural hearing loss is not

There are three parts to every ear: the outer, the middle, and the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss is when some obstruction impedes sound from getting through the outer and middle ear. This makes quiet sounds difficult to detect and muffles louder sounds. Common causes of this type of hearing loss include: 

—Colds or allergies causing fluid to get stuck in your middle ear 

—Ear infections

—Poor functioning of the Eustachian tube that connects your ear to your nose

—Physical obstructions such as a benign tumor, earwax, or an object getting stuck 

—Physical injuries or malformation

Every cause of this type of hearing loss is treated by medicine or surgery. Any of these causes in combination with sensorineural hearing loss cause what is called mixed hearing loss. The combination of the two causes can likely create greater difficulty to treat than either cause on its own.  

Find out more about Viagra and hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is most often the result of damage to the tiny hair cells that vibrate within your inner ear to register sound waves. Occasionally the damage to the nerve pathways that run from these tiny hairs to the brain can also cause it. Most commonly both ears are affected. 

Sensorineural hearing loss impacts both the loudness and clarity with which you hear. It most often makes itself apparent as difficulty understanding conversations, especially in public spaces or when background noise is present, but even on television or the radio. It often also reduces the range of sounds that you can hear comfortably, meaning soft sounds are inaudible and loud sounds quickly unbearable. 

The impact may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound, but whatever the case, it is not always, but most often permanent. Medicine or surgery will very rarely make any difference. Finding the proper hearing aids with the help of an audiologist is the best path forward. Less than three out of every 1,000 babies in the United States are born with congenital hearing loss, meaning some detectable degree of disabling damage, likely some problem in the formation of the inner ear. But eventually, throughout a lifetime, over half the population aged 75 and above suffers from hearing loss. 

In rare instances, someone might suffer sudden sensorineural hearing loss due to proximity to an explosion or some other dangerously loud sound. This sort of injury is traumatic and inspires immediate medical attention. But much more frequently hearing loss comes on gradually, and often too gradually for the person suffering it to even notice. As the population ages, the proportion of the population enduring sensorineural hearing loss steadily increases due to a wide variety of causes. 

These causes include: 

—Illnesses, disorders, and infections: Some examples of viral infections that can provoke sensorineural hearing loss include mumps, measles, and meningitis. Autoimmune disorders such as lupus and thyroiditis can also do so. 

—Toxic drugs and medications: Drugs that can harm your hearing health are called ototoxic and there are more than 200 known examples. We know of more than 200 such drugs that can cause permanent damage, including antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and anti-inflammatory medications. 

—Aging: The simple deterioration with age that is common to almost all parts of our bodies also applies to our ears and their delicate inner workings. 

—Injury: Acoustic trauma can be the result of a blow to the head or proximity to extremely loud sounds, such as an explosion.

—Noise: Habitual exposure to sounds louder than 85 dB can do gradually compounding damage, often too subtle to register. The subtlety of the damage only increases the risk, because the activity seems harmless, it becomes normalized and repeated without appropriate caution.


Sensorineural hearing loss will most frequently require hearing aids programmed specifically to your body and your needs. Take action today. Make an appointment with one of our specialized hearing health professionals to get an accurate assessment of your hearing health. Take control of it before it takes control of you. Contact American Hearing + Audiology for an appointment at one of our top-rated hearing centers.