The many tiny nerve endings in your inner ear are central to your hearing. When these nerve endings (or other structures in the inner ear) are harmed, the result is often sensorineural hearing impairment.
Typically, sensorineural deafness does not result in a complete inability to hear. Rather, it reduces the person’s ability to hear particular sounds. A person suffering from sensorineural hearing loss make report that some sounds are actually too loud while other sounds are muffled and indistinct. Recognizing speech patterns becomes especially difficult, in particular when listening in a noisy location. Tracking conversations may become difficult, especially if several people are speaking, while men’s voices may sound sharper than women’s. Additional symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss are feelings of dizziness or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
There is no single cause of sensorineural hearing loss that applies to all individuals. In some cases the individual has this problem from birth. Genetic problems can result in many forms of congenital sensorineural deafness, while in other cases infections passed from mother to infant are the real cause.
The causes of sensorineural deafness later in life are much more varied. One such trigger is acoustic trauma, or contact with an excessively loud noise. Similarly, long term exposure to loud noise (often experienced by construction workers and musicians) can cause inner ear damage.
Sensorineural hearing loss can come on suddenly, such as in the case of viral infections. The viruses that lead to measles, mumps and meningitis can all result in hearing loss. Fluctuating hearing loss that comes and goes combined with vertigo and tinnitus can be a sign of Meniere’s Disease. Both conditions can potentially be treated with corticosteroids.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by tumors, as well as head trauma and abrupt changes in air pressure. Other physical reasons for sensorineural hearing loss include the hereditary disorder otosclerosis where a bony growth in the inner ear interferes with hearing.
Untreated sensorineural hearing loss often diminishes quality of life. Luckily it can be improved or reversed in many cases.