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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:

  • Genetic syndromes (more than 400 are known)
  • Prenatal infections, which are infections the mother passes to her baby in the womb (toxoplasmosis, rubella, herpes)

Sensorineural hearing loss may develop in children or adults later in life (acquired) as a result of:

In some cases, the cause is unknown.

References

Kozak AT, Grundfast KM. Hearing loss. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2009;42:79-85.

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: 5/24/2010
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.
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