Types of Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the cochlea in the inner ear or damage to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.

Note: Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), also called sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. This can happen to a person all at once or over a period of up to three days. It should be considered a medical emergency and a patient who experiences SSHL should visit a doctor immediately. If it’s treated in a timely manner, some SSHL patients recover completely without treatment and often within the first few days. Others may get better slowly over a period of 1-2 weeks.

Causes & Risk Factors

There are several causes of sensorineural hearing loss including:

  • Aging
  • Genetics
  • Illnesses
  • Drugs that are toxic
  • Head trauma
  • Malformation of the inner ear
  • Exposure to loud noise

With sensorineural hearing loss, the ability to hear sounds is reduced. In some cases, even when speech is loud enough to hear, it may still sound unclear or muffled.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for people with sensorineural hearing loss include the use of devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants. Hearing aids can turn up the volume and also provide sound so that understanding speech is no longer as difficult. 95% of sensorineural hearing loss cases can be helped by hearing aids.

Cochlear implants, and now hybrid cochlear implants, provide direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve in the inner ear. Children and adults with a moderately-severe to profound hearing loss who cannot be helped by hearing aids may be candidates for cochlear implants.


According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 4,000 new cases of sensorineural hearing loss occur each year in the United States. It can affect anyone, but it typically occurs in people 30-60 years of age.

Sensorineural hearing loss should be addressed with hearing aids as soon as possible. This helps slow its progression. Another simple way to prevent further damage is to limit or avoid noise exposure. If you work in a noisy environment or plan on attending a concert or other event with high volume levels, then ear protection is critical.