Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL) is the most common form of permanent hearing loss. SNHL results from damage to the hair cells in the inner ear or to the nerve pathways between the inner ear and the brain.
What causes SNHL?
Normal aging often leads to this type of hearing loss. “Usually in your 70s and above, you lose about 1% of your hearing per year,” Darius Kohan, MD, Director of Otology/Neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital/MEETH and Associate Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology at New York University School of Medicine, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
Sometimes, sensorineural hearing loss is not just a result of aging. Some other causes include:
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, people damage their ears in many environments:
- High-risk occupations such as mining
- Using leaf blowers/lawn mowers
Even day-to-day noises can take a toll on your hearing. “It affects all age groups because the society that we live in is very noisy,” Kohan says. Wearing ear protection and avoiding sounds above 85 decibels can help protect your inner ear.
Genetic Mutations — According to a 2019 article in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, half of all newborns with hearing loss carry a specific gene for deafness. You can’t pick your genes. But, soon it may be possible to fix these genes in the womb. There are currently over 20 clinical trials for hearing loss gene therapies in the United States.
Side Effects from Cancer Treatment — According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, hearing loss occurs in cancers that are treated with cisplatin, a common cancer therapy medication. Cisplatin enters the inner ear where it can cause damage through generation of toxic particles called “reactive oxygen species." Not all cancer treatment drugs damage the inner ear.
Illness — “Viruses can cause hearing loss,” Kohan says. “Usually we associate infections with conductive losses from fluid in the ear but you can also get nerve damage.” According to a 2020 Mayo Clinic case study, a COVID-19 infection may have led to sensorineural hearing loss in a previously healthy patient. Many viruses are thought to cause inflammation in the inner ear, which can lead to hearing loss.
With minor hearing loss, you can take steps to protect your ears from further damage. “If we’re talking about more severe losses, then you need amplification, and the devices today are phenomenal,” Kohan says.
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