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Sensorineural deafness

Definition

Sensorineural deafness is hearing loss that 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

Considerations

Symptoms may include:

  • Certain sounds seem too loud
  • Difficulty following conversations when two or more people are talking
  • Difficulty hearing in noisy areas
  • Easier to hear men's voices than women's voices
  • Hard to tell high-pitched sounds (such as "s" or "th") from one another
  • Other people's voices sound mumbled or slurred
  • Problems hearing when there is background noise

Other symptoms include:

Common Causes

The inner part of the ear contains tiny hair cells (nerve endings), which 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 can be present at birth (congenital), 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 health care provider's office

Treatment is focused on improving 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.

For information on treating age-related hearing loss, see: Presbycusis

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. 97-4233. Updated: October 2008.


Review Date: 5/31/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies; University of Washington School of Medicine; and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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