Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when problems with hearing nerves and functions of the inner ear mean that sound is no longer conveyed properly to the brain.
Hearing loss can be a confusing and frustrating condition, especially if you don’t know what you’re experiencing or why you are having problems with your hearing. Here, we’ll look more closely at sensorineural hearing loss, its causes and how you can potentially reverse it.
There are three parts to your ear: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss affects the inner ear.
The inner ear contains the cochlea, where vibrations coming through the ear canal are changed to electrical neural signals, which are then transferred to the brain through the auditory (hearing) nerve.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when one, or both, of these functions of the inner ear are damaged. Damage to the cochlea or auditory nerve means that sound vibrations are not converted into impulses and carried to the brain in a way it understands.(1)
This type of hearing loss is characterised by having trouble hearing quiet or high-pitched sounds. If you’re affected by sensorineural hearing loss, you may feel as though people are mumbling or sounds may seem softer.
Different causes of sensorineural hearing loss need different interventions. In the case of sudden sensorineural hearing loss especially, it’s important to see your audiologist as soon as you can, ideally within 72 hours, as some or all of your hearing could be recovered.
Unlike gradual loss or congenital causes, sudden onset hearing loss can be reversed — as long as it is identified and treated immediately.
If the cause of hearing loss is an infection or ototoxic therapy, however, then it’s important to speak to your GP first. They’ll be able to help you understand what your next steps should be — whether removal of the medication that may be causing hearing loss, or by helping to locate any other causes.
Corticosteroid (oral or injection)
For sudden sensorineural hearing loss, your doctor may prescribe treatment with steroids to alleviate hearing loss. These come in two forms: tablets or an injection through the eardrum (intratympanic injection).
Oral steroid is usually the first-line therapy, while the steroid injection would be the choice when the oral steroid alone is not sufficient. Studies have shown both the oral and injection forms of steroid therapy are equally effective in treating hearing loss.(4)
It’s not always possible to reverse sensorineural hearing loss, particularly if it’s gradual or congenital hearing loss. In these cases, however, there are other treatment options:
If the sensorineural hearing loss is mild, sound amplification with hearing aids is usually the best option. Older people with mild presbycusis and those with mild irreversible sensorineural hearing loss, but intact cochleae, are good candidates for hearing aids.
Specsavers provide free hearing tests for those who might need hearing aids. The hearing test evaluates many parameters of hearing loss, including sound frequencies affected by and the severity of hearing loss.
The most common remedy for irreversible sensorineural hearing loss is cochlear implants. Your doctor will usually only recommend cochlear implants if you are totally deaf, or experience profound sensorineural hearing loss.
To know more about the different types of hearing loss, visit our dedicated hearing resource, which will help you understand everything about hearing impairments, causes and treatments.