Much of your ability to hear is governed by tiny nerve endings in your inner ear. If these nerves are destroyed, or if damage happens in other regions of the inner ear, sensorineural hearing loss can result.

Typically, sensorineural hearing loss does not result in a complete inability to hear. The hearing loss is often limited to particular frequencies and sounds. You might notice that some types of sounds are less distinct, while others are too loud for comfort. Discerning speech patterns becomes especially difficult, in particular when listening in a noisy environment. Tracking conversations may become difficult, particularly if several people are speaking, while men’s voices may sound clearer than women’s. Additional symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss are feelings of dizziness or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

There are many different causes of sensorineural deafness. Sensorineural hearing loss may be present at birth for some people. The disorder may have an underlying genetic cause. It can also come about from certain infections which can be passed from mother to child.

The causes of sensorineural hearing loss later in life are much more varied. Acoustic trauma, contact with an excessively loud noise, can lead to this issue. Similarly, long term exposure to loud noise (typical of construction workers and musicians) can cause inner ear damage.

Viral infections can cause sudden sensorineural hearing loss. The viruses that lead to measles, meningitis and mumps 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. In both cases, corticosteroids may be able to provide relief.

Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by tumors, as well as sudden changes in air pressure and head trauma. Otosclerosis, a hereditary disorder in which a bony growth in the middle ear disrupts hearing, is another physical cause of this type of hearing loss.

While sensorineural hearing loss can have a profoundly negative effect on your quality of life, there are treatments available.