Of the many types of hearing loss, sensorineural is by far the most common. What are the defining features of this type of hearing loss? How do you know what kind of hearing loss you have? Is there a cure for sensorineural hearing loss? Each of these questions has a complex answer, but we can do our best to unpack these complexities with a general understanding. Knowing the basics about sensorineural hearing loss sets you up to get the help you need if you are one of the many people with this type of hearing loss.
Types of Hearing Loss
Although there are many ways to categorize hearing loss, two of the main designations have to do with the location within the ear. Conductive hearing loss refers to loss in the outer and middle ear, where obstructions and health problems can prevent sound from transmitting to the inner ear. The causes of conductive hearing loss range from illnesses to injuries, but many of these conditions can be treated with positive effects for hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, exists in the innermost chamber of the ear canal. The most common type of sensorineural hearing loss is located in the tiny, hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia. These fragile cell clusters are prone to damage. That same sensitivity that makes them able to detect slight differences in pressure related to frequency also makes them easily broken or bent. When the stereocilia are damaged in this way, they do not regenerate on their own, requiring assistive technology for treatment.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Although there are many causes of sensorineural hearing loss, two causes are the most common. Aging can lead to deterioration in the stereocilia. This type of hearing loss is increasingly likely as you become older. The other most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is exposure to noise. When your ears are inundated with sound from a noisy environment, this pressure can be too much for the stereocilia to handle. Noise-induced hearing loss is caused in a combination of volume and duration of exposure. A single very loud blast of noise, such as an explosion or car accident, can be enough to cause noise-induced hearing loss in a moment. However, sustained exposure to somewhat lower volumes of sound can also cause noise-induced hearing loss. For instance, those who work in loud environments such as factories or industrial sites need to wear hearing protection to avoid noise-induced hearing loss when they work a full shift. Even when the sound is relatively low, a full day of exposure can be enough to cause permanent damage. Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss include illnesses, drugs that are toxic to hearing, hereditary hearing loss, head trauma, and congenital ear development issues.
Preventing Sensorineural Hearing Loss
In addition to wearing hearing protection, what can you do to prevent sensorineural hearing loss? There are more steps you can take than you might think. Limiting exposure to noise is the counterpart to wearing protection. If you can keep your time of exposure below the right threshold, you can still enjoy things like loud concerts or sporting events in a stadium or arena. Nutrition has been linked to lower rates of sensorineural hearing loss, as well. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats and processed junk food seems to help with the aging process in the stereocilia. Two specific diets have been linked to lower hearing loss. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) limits consumption of red meat and many oils that hinder cardiovascular health. The Mediterranean diet is quite similar but allows olive oil and even a glass of red wine with dinner. Smoking cessation is another important lifestyle change to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. If you or someone you love has already incurred sensorineural hearing loss, don’t lose hope. Treatment improves every day, and our hearing health professionals can pair you with the right hearing aids to address your individual needs. A hearing test is the first step in that direction, so don’t hesitate to make an appointment for your exam if you’re concerned about sensorineural hearing loss.