Conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss are the two main types of hearing impairment. Conductive hearing loss occurs because of a blockage in the ear, such as earwax, whereas sensorineural hearing loss is a result of damage to the cochlea in the inner ear.
When the hearing nerve or hair cells inside your cochlea are damaged, it changes your ability to hear quiet sounds and reduces the quality of the sound that you can hear.
Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include getting older, loud noises, ototoxic drugs and acoustic neuroma.
If other people think your TV or music is too loud or you have difficulty listening on the phone, you might have age-related hearing loss. Also known as presbycusis, age-related damage to the inner ear is the single biggest cause of sensorineural hearing loss.
As we get older, many of us will experience some hearing loss due to the gradual wear and tear of the hair cells. As your hearing starts to deteriorate, high-frequency sounds, such as a whistle or a child’s voice, can become more difficult to hear.
The next biggest cause of sensorineural hearing loss is prolonged exposure to excessive levels of noise. This can happen in a noisy workplace, while you’re listening to loud music or even if you’re too close to a loud gunshot or explosion. If a sound reaches 85 dB or higher, it can cause damage to your hair cells. The higher the decibel and the longer you listen to it, the more damage that is caused.
The effects of noise-induced hearing loss can be felt immediately or they may not occur until many years later. Often, tinnitus is the first sign of noise-induced hearing loss.
Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause damage to the inner ear, which can result in hearing loss. Oxotoxicity — a toxic effect on the ear or its nerve supply — is linked with more than 100 varieties of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. However, they usually only present a risk when taken in large doses, such as when treating cancer.
If you are currently on any medication and experiencing hearing loss, balance problems or tinnitus, visit your doctor to see whether there may be a link.
Another potential cause of sensorineural hearing loss is an acoustic neuroma, which is a slow-growing benign tumour that develops on the eighth cranial nerve. This is the nerve of hearing and balance, so a neuroma, therefore, can affect those senses. There’s no obvious cause for an acoustic neuroma, but they tend to affect people aged 30-60 years of age.
If you’re diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, it’s not a life-threatening condition and it is treatable. Depending on your general health, as well as the size and position of the tumour, treatment options can include observation, microsurgery and radiotherapy.
Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, as once the hair cells are damaged, they cannot regenerate. Constant monitoring of your hearing and early diagnosis are recommended to determine the cause and provide treatment options, which may include the use of hearing aids. Our blog post on how hearing aids work takes a closer look at the different types of hearing aid, how they work and the benefits of wearing one.
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