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Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when something damages the inner ear, the auditory (hearing) nerve, or the parts of the brain that process sound.
The ear is made up of 3 main parts:
Sensorineural hearing loss includes 2 types of hearing loss: sensory hearing loss and neural hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss usually starts in the high frequencies (high pitches). As more damage occurs, the hearing in the lower frequencies may become worse.
Sometimes it is hard to know whether the problem is sensory, neural, or both. That is why we often use the general term sensorineural hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss can have many different causes. For children with cancer or other illnesses, sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by treatments or the effects of the disease.
Chemotherapy drugs can be absorbed into the fluid that surrounds the hair cells. This causes damage to the hair cells and keeps them from working properly. The hair cells cannot send signals to the brain, and it is harder to hear certain sounds.
Radiation can cause sensorineural hearing loss in 2 different ways. Radiation may damage the hair cells, like chemotherapy does. Radiation can also damage the area of the brain that interprets sound or can harm the nerves that send signals between the hair cells and the brain.
Surgery can damage nerves or brain areas involved in hearing. The hearing nerve can be bruised or even cut. Pressure from swelling (edema) or a tumor can keep the hearing nerve from working properly.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be either permanent or temporary, depending on what has caused the hearing loss. The body cannot grow new hair cells. If the hair cells in the cochlea were damaged, hearing will not return to normal. If hearing loss was caused by the fluid around the hair cells, then sometimes hearing can get better after the fluid returns to normal. If the hearing loss was caused by radiation, it will probably be permanent. If a tumor or swelling put pressure on the hearing nerve, then hearing might return after the pressure is relieved.
Sometimes hearing can continue to get worse long after treatment has ended. This is called progressive hearing loss.
If your child is at risk for hearing loss or has symptoms of hearing loss, the first step is to see an audiologist. An audiologist is a health care provider who specializes in hearing care. A hearing test can help determine the type of hearing loss and how severe it is. Your audiologist and doctor will help develop the best plan for your child’s hearing needs. If a hearing aid or other device is needed, an audiologist can help select the right device and fit it for your child.
Learn more about Audiology and Hearing Care.
Find more information on hearing loss including types of hearing loss, symptoms of hearing loss, and ways to cope with hearing loss.
Reviewed: August 2022