Sensorineural Hearing

November 12, 2012

Sensorineural Hearing

Sensorineural hearing loss is the term used to describe loss of hearing due to inner ear problems – specifically in the auditory nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain. Damage to the sensitive hair cells within the cochlea may also result in sensorineural hearing loss.

What causes this type of deafness?

Presently there is no known cause of sensorineural hearing loss – however studies suggest that risk factors may include -

  • Age

  • Genetic abnormality

  • Acoustic trauma

  • Viral infection of the inner ear or auditory nerve

  • Meniere’s disease or tinnitus

  • Acoustic neuroma

  • Meningitis

  • Encephalitis

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Stroke

  • Certain medications involved in the treatment of cancer or infection may also contribute to sensorineural hearing impairment.

Symptoms of sensorineural hearing impairment

Anyone who suffers with any kind of hearing loss may not be immediately aware of the problem – family and friends may notice any or all of the following symptoms -

  • Babies who fail to respond to sound or who fail to ‘babble’

  • Sound seems to be muffled or distorted

  • High tones are often missed

  • The sounds ‘s’ ‘f’ and ‘z’ may not be heard correctly

  • The hearer may find it difficult to follow a conversation – particularly if there is any background noise

  • Persistent episodes of tinnitus or vertigo


Once any kind of hearing impairment is suspected an appointment should be made with a medical practitioner. The practitioner will take a full patient history – including any family history of auditory disease – and carry out an ear examination.

Once the initial information has been gathered and depending on the age and condition of the patient further tests may be carried out – these may include a head CT, an MRI scan and an EEG.


Sensorineural hearing impairment is usually treated with either hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Hearing aid – a small electronic device, fitted with a microphone and amplifier which pick up sounds and increase the volume before the integrated speaker transmits the amplified sound to the ear. A hearing aid is generally worn behind the ear.

Cochlear implant – as the name suggests this small electronic device is implanted under the skin behind the ear. A cochlear implant consists of both internal and external components and works by stimulating the auditory nerve fibers in the cochlea.

  • The internal piece of the cochlear implant is placed in the bone behind the ear and works as the receiver/stimulator.

  • The external component of the implant consists of a speech processor and a head set which is worn behind the ear and which consists of a directional microphone as well as a transmitter held in place over the implant with magnets.

Any questions?

Anyone who is diagnosed with hearing impairment will, no doubt, have a great many questions to ask their medical practitioner, it may be helpful to make a note of these queries beforehand as an aide to memory. Questions you may wish to ask include -

  • Why have I suffered hearing impairment?

  • Will it get better?

  • What is my treatment plan?

  • How much hearing can be restored via a hearing aid?

  • What are my choices of hearing aid?

  • Will a cochlear implant restore all of my hearing?

  • Is a cochlear implant permanent?

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